Jury to start de­cid­ing if Fields meant to harm, kill pro­test­ers

Prose­cu­tor says he did not have to drive his car into crowd

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY C. SUAREZ RO­JAS

CHAR­LOTTESVILLE — In closing state­ments Thurs­day, Se­nior As­sis­tant Com­mon­wealth’s At­tor­ney Nina-Alice Antony sought to un­der­mine the de­fense’s ar­gu­ment that James Alex Fields Jr. thought he was un­der at­tack and felt sorry for harm­ing the pro­test­ers he struck with his car.

De­fense at­tor­ney Denise Lunsford said videos of Fields apol­o­giz­ing to po­lice and weep­ing in an in­ter­ro­ga­tion room af­ter learn­ing that some­one died in the crash show that he was gen­uinely sorry, but Antony said Fields did not have to drive his car into the crowd of peo­ple.

“He said he was scared of peo­ple at­tack­ing him, but we can look at that — there was no ev­i­dence that

shows he is cred­i­ble,” Antony said.

Fields, 21, is charged with first de­gree-mur­der in the Aug. 12, 2017, death of Heather Heyer. The Ohio man also faces eight counts of ma­li­cious wound­ing for in­juries he caused to oth­ers in the in­ci­dent.

The jury will be­gin its de­lib­er­a­tions Fri­day morn­ing.

The de­fense has ar­gued that Fields feared for his life af­ter at­tend­ing the violent Unite the Right rally that day. Po­lice de­clared the white na­tion­al­ist gath­er­ing an un­law­ful assem­bly af­ter an hour of pitched street vi­o­lence con­sumed the down­town park where the rally was be­ing held to protest the planned re­moval of a Con­fed­er­ate statue.

The jury must now de­ter­mine whether Fields acted with mal­ice and in­tended to kill and harm the pro­test­ers. Lunsford asked the jury to not find him guilty of any­thing more than vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter and un­law­ful wound­ing.

Antony noted that sev­eral wit­nesses tes­ti­fied that the coun­ter­protesters’ march was joy­ful and markedly dif­fer­ent from the scene ear­lier in the day.

Lunsford, how­ever, said Fields and oth­ers re­mained cau­tious around the coun­ter­protesters and were wor­ried about the po­ten­tial for fur­ther vi­o­lence.

“There were two groups of peo­ple: peace­ful, happy peo­ple and an­gry, violent pro­test­ers,” she said. “That dif­fer­ence is some­times in the eye of the be­holder.”

Three months be­fore the rally, Fields posted to his In­sta­gram ac­count an im­age de­pict­ing a car slam­ming into a group of peo­ple with over­laid text that says: “You have the right to protest, but I’m late for work.”

Antony, the prose­cu­tor, said the im­age gives the jury a “glimpse into his mind” the mo­ment Fields saw the crowd of march­ing pro­test­ers as they ap­proached Char­lottesville’s down­town pedes­trian mall.

“He was pre­sented with an op­por­tu­nity,” she said. “He seized it to make his In­sta­gram post a re­al­ity.”

Antony said the In­sta­gram post and an “al­most sin­is­ter” text he sent to his mother the night be­fore the rally, paired with an im­age of Adolf Hitler, are ev­i­dence that he held ill will against the coun­ter­protesters.

In re­sponse to his mother coun­sel­ing him to be care­ful, he replied: “We’re not the ones who need to be care­ful.”

Lunsford, how­ever, ar­gued that Fields was sim­ply a brash 20-year-old, and that of­fen­sive memes and bravado are not nec­es­sar­ily ev­i­dence of bad in­ten­tions.

She noted that one of the de­fense’s wit­nesses, Ed­mund Davidson, said he saw a coun­ter­protester at the rally car­ry­ing a sign that said, “This ma­chine kills fas­cists.”

“Was that per­son think­ing of do­ing that that day, or was he try­ing to con­vey an­other mes­sage?” said Lunsford, adding that Fields did not come to Char­lottesville with any weapons or equip­ment.

While pho­tos of Fields from that day showed that he at one point car­ried a shield and chanted ho­mo­pho­bic slurs along­side mem­bers of a white na­tion­al­ist group, Lunsford said Fields, like many oth­ers, was car­ried away by the ten­sion.

Ear­lier in the day, one of the fi­nal wit­nesses in the case, Dwayne Dixon, a Univer­sity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill pro­fes­sor who came to protest the rally, told the jury that he saw a ve­hi­cle sim­i­lar to Fields’ Dodge Chal­lenger cir­cle a down­town park where coun­ter­protesters were gath­ered some­time be­tween 12:45 and 1:15 p.m.

Af­ter see­ing it a third time, Dixon force­fully told the driver to “get the f--out of here,” he said.

Dixon ad­mit­ted to writ­ing a now-deleted Face­book post in Jan­uary de­scrib­ing the in­ter­ac­tion, say­ing he “shooed” away Fields while hold­ing a ri­fle some­time be­fore the fa­tal car ram­ming two blocks away.

While the Face­book post has been the sub­ject of con­spir­acy the­o­ries that claim Dixon chased Fields into the crowd, the prose­cu­tor said Dixon may have mis­taken Fields’ ve­hi­cle for some­one else’s.

Wit­nesses who have tes­ti­fied in the case said Fields re­versed away from the coun­ter­protesters and was idling be­fore hurtling to­ward the crowd. Fields told po­lice that he thought there were peo­ple who were go­ing to at­tack him from be­hind, but Antony said there has been no ev­i­dence to sup­port that claim.

The prose­cu­tor said the re­morse that the de­fen­dant ap­peared to show in state­ments to the po­lice may be mis­placed or disin­gen­u­ous, be­cause record­ings of two jail­house phone calls be­tween Fields and his mother show that he had lit­tle sym­pa­thy for the vic­tims, as he an­grily re­ferred to them as “ter­ror­ists” and “com­mu­nists.”

“Weigh the cred­i­bil­ity of his state­ments. Think about that in light of the ev­i­dence and ask if they’re cred­i­ble,” Antony said to the jury. “We know there was no one be­hind him.”


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