Johnathan Cromwell takes the stand, claiming self-defense and expressing remorse for shots fired in 2017

Posted at 4:27 PM, Feb 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-01 12:40:49-05

CHESAPEAKE, Va. – On the sixth day of his trial, defendant Johnathan Cromwell took the stand and, under oath, told the ladies and gentlemen of the jury what happened on January 26, 2017, near a Clubhouse in the Riverwalk neighborhood in Chesapeake.

Cromwell is charged with 1st degree murder and use of a firearm in commission of murder. He was charged on February 16, 2017, and has been behind bars ever since.

Defense attorney and Cromwell’s legal counsel, Andrew Sacks, questioned the defendant all Tuesday morning about why shots were fired on the night in question.

Cromwell maintains he acted in self-defense, thinking the driver of a blue minivan intended to run him over.

It was at this time Cromwell said he fired 7-10 rounds towards a van driven by 60-year-old Jiansheng Chen. Several of the rounds hit Chen, who died at the scene.

The Commonwealth's evidence intended to prove Chen was only in the area of the Riverwalk Clubhouse to play Pokémon Go. Defense evidence shows Chen and another man were previously barred from the property and were subject to arrest if they came back on the property.

Towards the end of his direct questioning, Sacks asked his client why he fired shots and what was in his mind at the time he fired. Cromwell brought up the death of his younger brother, which happened four months prior, and said, “I didn’t want my mother to receive another phone call.”

Cromwell said, “ I shot because I thought he was going to run me over.” He explains he fired until the car stopped.

In a cross examination, Commonwealth’s Attorney DJ Hansen asked Cromwell about his positioning in relationship to the van before shots were fired. Cromwell admits the first shots went in into the van through the driver’s side window. He testified he was standing at the driver’s front light.

Hansen asked Cromwell why he moved left, more in front of the van, instead of moving right to avoid the line of drive. Hansen said, “You basically created your own danger; you could have stepped away, right? You wanted to confront Chen that night, he was not going anywhere without you confronting him? Right?"

Cromwell said he wanted to talk to Chen about why he was there, but the Commonwealth wanted the defendant to explain why a conversation was necessary.

Johnathan Cromwell takes the stand

Cromwell did express remorse on the stand through tears, saying he felt the weight of his actions the night he fired and that he feels them now.

Comments made about the defendant’s shot grouping were also brought up. Evidence shows Cromwell asked a detective on scene, “How was my shot grouping?” Cromwell, from the stand, said he only asked that to see if any stray bullets had hit houses in the area.

Hansen brought up Cromwell’s hobbies and asked if he enjoyed going to the shooting range. Hansen then asked Cromwell if he was proud of the shots fired into the van, at his "target" on the night of the incident and Cromwell said that was not his intention with the comments made to the detective.

The defense rested their case after Cromwell testified.

The Commonwealth called one other witness who worked in a supervisory capacity with the security company and said Cromwell would have had the authority to make an arrest the night he stopped Chen.

On Wednesday, the 12-person jury will receive instructions about how to weigh evidence, and from there the defense and prosecution team will give their closing arguments.

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