James Alex Fields, Jr., the man who drove a car into a crowd of protesters at the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, has been convicted of first-degree murder for the death of Heather Heyer.
He was also found guilty of the highest degree of all charges against him, including five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, three counts of malicious wounding, and one count of leaving the scene of a crash. Those charges were connected to the other protesters injured when Fields’ Dodge Challenger slammed into the crowd at an estimated speed of 28 mph., according to Virginia State Police.
Fields appeared stoic as the verdict was read in a courtroom late Friday afternoon. Jurors delivered their decision after deliberating for about seven hours.
In delivering its verdict late Friday afternoon, the jury rejected arguments by lawyers for Fields that he acted in self-defense during the events in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017.
Fields, 21, of Maumee, Ohio, drove to Virginia from his home in Maumee, Ohio, to support the white nationalists. As a large group of counterprotesters marched through Charlottesville singing and laughing, he stopped his car, backed up, then sped into the crowd, according to testimony from witnesses and video surveillance shown to jurors.
Prosecutors told the jury that Fields was angry after witnessing violent clashes between the two sides earlier in the day. The violence prompted police to shut down the rally before it even officially began.
Fields’ lawyers told the jury he feared for his life after witnessing the violence.
The rally was held to protest Charlottesville’s planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Hundreds of Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis and other white nationalists streamed into the college town for one of the largest gatherings of white supremacists in a decade. Some dressed in battle gear.
According to one of his former teachers, Fields was known in high school for being fascinated with Nazism and idolizing Adolf Hitler. Jurors were shown a text message he sent to his mother days before the rally that included an image of the notorious German dictator. When his mother pleaded with him to be careful, he replied: “we’re not the one (sic) who need to be careful.”
During one of two recorded phone calls Fields made to his mother from jail in the months after he was arrested, he told her he had been mobbed “by a violent group of terrorists” at the rally. In another, Fields referred to the mother of the woman who was killed as a “communist” and “one of those anti-white supremacists.”
Prosecutors also showed jurors a meme Fields posted on Instagram three months before the rally in which bodies are shown being thrown into the air after a car hits a crowd of people identified as protesters. He posted the meme publicly to his Instagram page and sent a similar image as a private message to a friend in May 2017.
The crowds of white nationalists had been dispersed by Virginia State Police well before Fields accelerated down Fourth Street, through a barricade where a trooper had earlier been stationed, into a crowd of protesters.
Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal and civil rights activist, was killed, and nearly three dozen others were injured. The trial also featured emotional testimony from survivors who described devastating injuries and long, complicated recoveries.
The jury will reconvene Monday to determine a sentence. Under the law, jurors can recommend from 20 years to life in prison for the murder charge, and additional time for every malicious wounding charge. The sentencing hearing could take two days.
Fields is eligible for the death penalty if convicted of separate federal hate crime charges. No trial has been scheduled for those charges yet, however.
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