Neo-Nazi guilty

Woman died when man drove car into pro­test­ers in Vir­ginia

Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Joe Heim and Kristine Phillips

A neo-Nazi who rammed his car through the crowd at the white su­prem­a­cist rally in Char­lottesville, Va., last year is found guilty of first-de­gree mur­der.

CHAR­LOTTESVILLE, Va. — An avowed sup­porter of neo-Nazi be­liefs who took part in the violent and chaotic white su­prem­a­cist “Unite the Right” rally in this city last year was found guilty Fri­day of first-de­gree mur­der for killing a woman by ram­ming his car through a crowd of coun­ter­protesters.

A jury of seven women and five men be­gan de­lib­er­at­ing Fri­day morn­ing and took just over seven hours to reach its de­ci­sion that James 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 coun­ter­protesters, slam­ming into them and an­other car. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed and 35 oth­ers in­jured, many griev­ously.

The deadly at­tack in the early af­ter­noon of Aug. 12, 2017, cul­mi­nated a dark 24 hours in this quiet col­lege town. It was marked by a men­ac­ing torch­light march through the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia cam­pus the night be­fore, with par­tic­i­pants shout­ing racist and anti-Semitic in­sults, and wild street bat­tles on the morn­ing of the planned rally be­tween white su­prem­a­cists and those op­pos­ing their ide­ol­ogy.

As the sounds and im­ages of bru­tal beat­ings, blood­ied faces and hate-filled chants spread across the coun­try and around the world, this city quickly be­came iden­ti­fied with the emer­gence of a new or­der of white supremacy that no longer felt com­pelled to hide in the shad­ows or the safety of on­line anonymity.

Case was about in­tent

Many in their em­bold­ened ranks shouted fas­cist slo­gans, dis­played Nazi swastikas and Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle flags and ex­tended their arms in Sieg Heil salutes. And many also wore red Make Amer­ica Great Again hats, say­ing they were en­cour­aged in the pub­lic dis­play of their be­liefs by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who later that week would say that there were “very fine peo­ple” on both sides of the demon­stra­tion.

Fields’ con­vic­tion fol­lowed six days of tes­ti­mony in Char­lottesville Cir­cuit Court, where Heyer’s deadly in­juries were de­tailed and sur­vivors of the crash de­scribed the chaos and their own in­juries. Jeanne Peter­son, 38, who limped to the wit­ness stand with the help of bailiffs, said she’d had five surg­eries and would have an­other next year. Wed­nes­day Bowie, a coun­ter­protester in her 20s, said her pelvis was bro­ken in six places. Mar­cus Martin de­scribed push­ing his then-fi­ancee out of the Chal­lenger’s path be­fore he was struck.

Su­san Bro, Heyer’s mother, sat near the front of the crowded court­room ev­ery day watch­ing the pro­ceed­ings over­seen by Judge Richard Moore. Fields’ mother, Sa­man­tha Bloom, sat in her wheel­chair on the other side, an is­land in a sea of her son’s vic­tims and their sup­port­ers.

For both pros­e­cu­tors and Fields’ de­fense lawyers, the case was al­ways about in­tent. De­fense at­tor­neys Denise Lunsford and John Hill did not deny Fields drove the car that killed Heyer and in­jured dozens. But they said it was not out of mal­ice, rather out of fear for his own safety and con­fu­sion. They said he re­gret­ted his ac­tions im­me­di­ately, and pointed the jury to his re­peated pro­fes­sions of sor­row shortly af­ter his ar­rest and his un­con­trol­lable sob­bing when he learned of the in­juries and death he had caused.

“He wasn’t an­gry; he was scared,” Lunsford told the jury in her closing ar­gu­ment.

Early in the trial, the de­fense said there would be tes­ti­mony from wit­nesses con­cern­ing Fields’ mental health, but those wit­nesses were never brought for­ward.

‘Face of anger, of ha­tred’

Pros­e­cu­tors, though, said Fields was en­raged when he drove more than 500 miles from his apart­ment in Ohio to take part in the rally — and later chose to act on that anger by ram­ming his two-door mus­cle car into the crowd. They de­scribed Fields “idling, watch­ing” in his Chal­lenger on Fourth Street and sur­vey­ing a di­verse and joy­ous crowd of marchers a block and a half away that was cel­e­brat­ing the can­cel­la­tion of the planned rally.

They showed video and pre­sented wit­nesses tes­ti­fy­ing that there was no one around Fields’ car when he slowly backed it up the street and then raced it for­ward down the hill into the un­sus­pect­ing crowd. In her fi­nal ad­dress to the jury Thurs­day, Se­nior-As­sis­tant Com­mon­wealth’s At­tor­ney Nina-Alice Antony showed a closeup of Fields in his car to re­but the idea that he was fright­ened when he acted.

“This is not the face of some­one who is scared,” Antony said. “This is the face of anger, of ha­tred. It’s the face of mal­ice.”

Ju­rors were shown a now-deleted In­sta­gram post that Fields shared three months be­fore the crash. “You Have the Right to Protest, But I’m Late for Work,” read the post, ac­com­pa­nied by an im­age of a car run­ning into a group of peo­ple.

Steve Hel­ber / As­so­ci­ated Press

Su­san Bro, left, mother of car-ram­ming vic­tim Heather Heyer, is hugged by a sup­porter af­ter a guilty ver­dict was reached in the trial of James Alex Fields Jr. on Fri­day.

Fields

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