CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) – A jury has found a former security guard guilty of second-degree murder in a 2017 fatal shooting in Chesapeake.
60-year-old Jiansheng Chen was inside a minivan in Chesapeake’s River Walk community when he was shot by Johnathan Cromwell, a security guard employed by CityWide Protection Service at the time.
Cromwell was also found guilty of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony on Friday. His sentencing is scheduled for Monday morning at 9 a.m.
Responding Chesapeake police officers found Chen suffering from gunshot wounds and pronounced him dead at the scene. Cromwell was initially charged with second-degree murder, but that was upgraded to first-degree murder several months later. Through their finding Friday, the jury believed Cromwell didn’t kill Chen with premeditation.
Jurors received the case Thursday morning, following several days of testimony from witnesses on both sides – including Cromwell. The group of 12 jurors requested audio equipment on Thursday so they could review video recorded the night of the fatal shooting.
The jury heard the moment the shooting took place earlier in the trial in video captured on a neighbor’s security camera. Although the actual incident could not be seen, Cromwell was heard in the video telling Chen to “Stop!” and to “Put the car in park” before a series of gunshots rang out.
Over the course of the trial, defense attorney Andrew Sacks worked to paint the case as one of self-defense.
Sacks told the jury on Wednesday Cromwell didn’t know it was Chen in the minivan when he went to investigate who was turning into the River Walk clubhouse. He said Cromwell only realized it was Chen when he got out of his patrol car — because he had barred Chen from the clubhouse just 10 days prior.
Cromwell took the stand in his own defense on Tuesday, saying he fired the shots because he felt he was going to get run over by Chen.
“I yelled ‘stop the vehicle’ and he shook his head no,” Cromwell said, adding he didn’t have time to move out of the way of the oncoming van. Cromwell fired 10 shots in total, hitting Chen five times.
In their cross-examination of Cromwell, prosecutors attempted to poke holes in Cromwell’s story.
Cromwell told a detective the night of the incident he yelled 10-15 times for Chen to stop the car. In the neighbor’s video shown to the jury, Cromwell only yelled three times.
“Can you explain why there are only three times?” Chesapeake Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney DJ Hansen asked. Cromwell replied, “I’m not an expert on this type of surveillance camera.”
Prosecutors also asked Cromwell why only hours after the gun went off he questioned if his shots were grouped together. Cromwell didn’t have an answer.
The prosecution’s case hinged on trying to convince the jury that Chen was a grandfather playing the popular smartphone game Pokemon Go when he was shot. Prosecutors argued Cromwell purposefully put himself in front of the van when he confronted Chen.
In the prosecution’s closing argument, Hansen argued Cromwell was a security guard who wanted to use his power simply because he could. “This case is about Mr. Chen, a 60-year-old man who took a right turn that cost him his life,” Hansen said.
Nearly a month before the trial, Chen’s family filed a lawsuit against Cromwell, CityWide and the River Walk Community Association seeking $5 million in damages.
The lawsuit accused Cromwell of having a “dangerous, aggressive, erratic, careless and violent” nature with a known “propensity” for brandishing or threatening to use his firearm in situations where it wasn’t warranted.
According to the suit, Cromwell and other guards employed by Citywide were carrying loaded firearms while on patrol — despite a contract between the River Walk Community Association and Citywide that called for unarmed security guards.
Cromwell could face anywhere from 8 to 45 years in prison — 5 to 40 years for the second-degree murder conviction, plus the 3 to 5 years for the firearm charge.
Both the families of Chen and Cromwell are expected to comment on the conviction on Monday.
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