Neo-Nazi sup­porter found guilty of pro­tester’s mur­der

Ohio man killed woman, hurt 35 by driv­ing into a crowd.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Joe Heim and Kris­tine Phillips

CHAR­LOTTES­VILLE, VA. — An avowed sup­porter of neo-Nazi be­liefs who took part in the 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 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 them.

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 to his re­peated pro­fes­sions of sor­row shortly af­ter his ar­rest and his un­con­trol­lable sob­bing when he learned of the in­juries and death he 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.

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 car into the crowd. They de­scribed Fields “idling, watch­ing” in his Chal­lenger on Fourth Street and sur­vey­ing a crowd of marchers 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 close-up 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,” she 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.

Jurors also saw a text exchange shortly be­fore the rally in which Fields told his mother he was plan­ning to at­tend, and she told him to be care­ful. “We’re not the one who need to be care­ful,” Fields replied in a mis­spelled text message. He in­cluded an at­tach­ment: a meme show­ing Adolf Hitler.

James Fields Jr. of Ohio was found guilty Fri­day of first­de­gree mur­der in the death of a woman at a rally in Char­lottes­ville in 2017.

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