A Virginia judge Thursday allowed a security guard accused of fatally shooting a 60-year-old unarmed man in January to change defense attorneys, NBC-affiliate WAVY reported.
The decision came after Johnathan Cromwell’s former lawyer, Emily Munn, filed a motion in General District Court in the City of Chesapeake asking that she and her co-counsel be taken off the case.
Cromwell and his family both agreed to the request, according to the court document, published by WAVY. A public defender will now represent him, the station reported.
The Commonwealth's Attorney Office for the City of Chesapeake charged Cromwell in February with second-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of murder. Cromwell, 22, has been denied bond twice and remains behind bars.
An attorney for the security company, Citywide Protection Services, has said Cromwell fired multiple times in self-defense after Chen allegedly drove his van at him. Chen, who police have said was unarmed, was shot five times and died on the scene.
One of Chen’s nephews has called the self-defense claims “completely false.”
While on patrol, Cromwell allegedly confronted Chen after the retiree and immigrant from China drove into the driveway of the River Walk clubhouse parking area, according to prosecutors.
A Chen family attorney has said Chen went there to play Pokemon Go, a GPS-based virtual reality game, as a way to bond with his nieces, nephews, and grandchildren.
But the security company’s attorney has said Chen received a written notice barring him from the clubhouse parking area after sunset. It was issued because Chen allegedly violated community rules by going there after hours, Citywide attorney Andrew Sacks has said.
After Cromwell stopped his vehicle in front of Chen's, Chen backed up and turned his van around to the entrance of the driveway, according to prosecutors. Cromwell exited his car, said "stop," then allegedly opened fire, authorities said.
Chen’s command of English was "very, very limited," a family attorney has said. But the security company’s attorney has said he didn’t "have any information to indicate that the events in this case occurred because of a language barrier."
Munn, Cromwell's former attorney, said in the motion that she and her co-counsel had visited Cromwell in jail to review evidence in the Jan. 26 shooting death of Jiansheng Chen, who a family attorney said was playing Pokemon Go the night he was killed.
They also discussed options with Cromwell for a preliminary hearing, originally scheduled for April 26, the court document said.
But “the communication between attorneys and client has broken down to the point that counsel can no longer fulfill their ethical obligation to provide legal advice to the defendant,” Munn wrote in the court filing.
Munn did not immediately respond to an NBC News request for comment Thursday about withdrawing from the case.
Cromwell's father, Ed Cromwell, told reporters after the hearing that the change was his son's wishes.
“No communication at all,” Ed Cromwell said, according to WAVY. “It was always a fight to get any type of information from her.”
Cromwell is due back in court on June 27, according to WAVY.