Charlottesville: James Fields guilty of murder for driving vehicle into crowd
Dec 08 2018
The August 12, 2017 violence, which claimed the life of 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer and injured dozens more, turned the bucolic university city in Virginia into a symbol of the growing audacity of the far right under Trump - to the dismay of many of its residents.
Hill, on the defense, said his client was "scared to death" and drove his auto sporadically in fear the throngs of people would attack him during the violent clashes on the street.
A jury of seven women and five men began deliberating Friday morning and took just over seven hours to reach its decision that James Alex Fields Jr., 21, of Maumee, Ohio, acted with premeditation when he backed up his 2010 Dodge Challenger and then roared it down a narrow downtown street crowded with counter protesters, slamming into them and another vehicle.
They showed video and presented witnesses testifying that there was no one around Fields' vehicle when he slowly backed it up the street and then raced it forward down the hill into the unsuspecting crowd.
Fields was also found guilty of eight counts of malicious wounding of various degrees, and a count of failing to stop at the scene of an accident. He still faces a federal trial on hate crimes that carries the possibility of the death penalty.
The sentencing phase will begin Monday at 9:30 a.m.; the jury will consider whether to recommend life in prison.
The car-ramming incident capped a day of tensions and physical clashes between hundreds of white nationalists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis who had assembled in Charlottesville to protest plans to remove statues of two Confederate generals, and groups of opposing demonstrators.
But Fields' lawyer said he panicked and was "scared to death" after witnessing violent clashes earlier in the day. When Fields' mother responded, she noted how Heyer's mother Susan Bro "lost her daughter". They will not replace us!" they yelled, in a response to the chants heard during the 2017 rally, when some white nationalists shouted: "You will not replace us! and "Jews will not replace us".
According to one of his former teachers, Fields was known in high school for being fascinated with Nazism and idolizing Adolf Hitler. "We're not the one who need to be careful", Fields replied in a misspelled text message on August 11, 2017.
According to The Associated Press, he also told his mother while in jail that he was 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".
Fields' defense asked the court to find him guilty of lesser charges of unlawful wounding and involuntary manslaughter, arguing that he was immature at the time of the attack and that he drove into protesters out of fear. A video of Fields being interrogated after the crash showed him sobbing and hyperventilating after he was told a woman had died and others were seriously injured. No trial has been scheduled yet.