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Security guard convicted in killing of Pokemon Go-playing grandfather

The victim, a Chinese immigrant, had taken to the game as a way to bond with his nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

A security guard in Virginia was convicted of second-degree murder on Friday in the 2017 shooting death of a Chinese immigrant who had left his house at night to play Pokemon Go.

The guard, Johnathan Cromwell, 23, had been charged with first-degree murder and claimed self-defense in the Jan. 26, 2017, death of Jiansheng Chen, 60. Cromwell was also found guilty of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

The verdict came after one day of deliberations in a case that made national headlines after Chinese-American civil rights groups and federally elected officials called for criminal charges against Cromwell.

"Justice is finally served," said Harry Zhang, a board member and past president of the Organization of Chinese Americans, Eastern Virginia Chapter.

Image: Johnathan Cromwell
Johnathan CromwellChesapeake Sheriff's Office

Sentencing is scheduled to begin Monday morning, according to Nancy Parr, the commonwealth’s attorney. Parr declined to comment, citing those deliberations. Cromwell can be sentenced to five to 40 years in prison on the second-degree murder charge.

“I do not feel it is appropriate yet to comment on the case because the trial is still underway. The trial is not over yet," Andrew Sacks, Cromwell's attorney, said. "However, I intend to arrive on Monday morning and will be fighting just as hard for Johnathan then as I have for the last two weeks. Other than that, I will reserve further comment until after the trial.”

Calling the shooting “a malicious killing,” prosecutors said Cromwell, while on patrol, confronted Chen about a mile from his home, where he had parked in the driveway of a clubhouse in the River Walk neighborhood of Chesapeake, Virginia.

Chen was out playing the GPS-based mobile game Pokemon Go as a way to bond with his nieces, nephews and grandchildren, the Chen’s family attorney said. He added that Chen’s command of English was limited.

Sacks claimed Cromwell shot Chen in self-defense after Chen allegedly drove his van at him.

But prosecutors argued Cromwell purposely put himself in front of Chen’s vehicle, saying he was a security guard who wanted to use his power simply because he could, according to NBC-affiliate WAVY.

The prosecutor, Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Lori Galbraith, said in her opening statement that Cromwell knew of Chen, who lived in River Walk, and had “stalked” him in the past while he was playing Pokemon Go, The Virginian-Pilot reported.

On the night of the shooting, Cromwell, who was employed by Citywide Protection Services, had stopped one of Chen’s roommates, who was also out playing Pokemon Go, and escorted him home, Galbraith said, according to the newspaper.

Image: Jiansheng Chen
Jiansheng ChenCourtesy of Chen Family

Sacks said Chen was cited for trespassing 10 days earlier in the same area where the shooting took place, according to WAVY. Cromwell’s defense argued Chen was trying to elude security because he knew there would be up to a $2,500 fine and a year in jail, having already been cited.

In an interview played for jurors between Cromwell and detectives on the night of the shooting, the security guard said he went to investigate after seeing a minivan drive up in the area of the clubhouse, WAVY reported.

Cromwell said Chen shook his head no when he tried talking to him, then put his van in reverse and drove right at him.

“I drew my firearm and was yelling ‘stop the car,' ‘stop the car,’” Cromwell told police, according to WAVY. “That’s when I started shooting and the first couple rounds went through the driver’s window.”

Sacks claimed Cromwell’s use of force was justified, arguing that Chen used his van as a weapon when he drove it at Cromwell, the station reported.

Chen was shot four times in his upper left chest and once in his left upper arm, according to the commonwealth’s attorney. He died at the scene. Police have said Chen was unarmed.

Cromwell said he fired a total of 10 shots. After the shooting, he told his friend who was doing a ride-along to get his medical kit from the car and to call 911, WAVY reported.

Toward the end of the trial, Cromwell testified in his own defense, saying he was “extremely remorseful” and took no pride in fatally shooting Chen, according to the station.

Late last month, Chen's family filed a $5.35 million wrongful death lawsuit in the Virginia Beach Circuit Court against Cromwell, Citywide Protection Services and the River Walk Community Association.

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CORRECTION (March 1, 2019, 5:04 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misspelled the first name of the man convicted in the death of Jiansheng Chen. He is Johnathan Cromwell, not Jonathan.