Final arguments done, Charlottesville case headed to jury
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A prosecutor told a jury on Thursday that James Alex Fields Jr. had hate and violence in his mind when he deliberately drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally, killing one woman, injuring dozens and leaving bodies strewn on the ground.
As prosecutors urged jurors to find Fields guilty of first- degree murder and other felonies for the deadly August 2017 crash, his lawyers made a final attempt to convince them that Fields had plowed into the crowd out of fear.
The jury is scheduled to begin deliberating the case Friday morning.
During closing arguments Thursday, prosecutors portrayed Fields as a white nationalist who became angry after police forced crowds at the rally to disband. The police action followed violent clashes between the white nationalists who descended on Charlottesville to protest plans to remove a statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and counterdemonstrators who showed up to oppose the white nationalists.
Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina-Alice Antony reminded the jurors about a text message sent by Fields the day before the rally that included an image of Adolf Hitler. Fields sent the text to his mother in response to her plea for him to be careful. Fields wrote: ‘ we’re not the one ( sic) who need to be careful,” accompanied by Hitler’s image.
Antony also repeatedly reminded the jurors about a meme Fields posted on Instagram three months before the crash. The image shows bodies tossed into the air after a car plows into a crowd identified as “protesters.”
“What we have is a man who had a decision, and he decides to turn his Instagram post into reality,” she said.
Defense attorney Denise Fields Lunsford urged the jury to consider the chaos earlier that day, when street fights broke out between the two groups and tear gas was thrown.
Lunsford said Fields had urine thrown at him, had been yelled at by counterprotesters and found himself alone and unprotected as he attempted to leave Charlottesville and drive back to his home in Maumee.
She said he saw a large crowd down the street surrounding two other cars and feared he would be attacked.
“Look at the circumstances as they appeared to him,” Lunsford said. “He says he felt he was in danger, there were people coming at him.”
Antony told the jury no one was near Fields’ car when he drove into the crowd. She said he idled in his car for more than a minute before backing up, then speeding into the crowd.
“He gets toward that group and he goes for them,” she said.
Fields, 21, faces charges of first- degree murder in the death of Heather Heyer, a 32- year- old paralegal and civil rights activist. He also faces five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, three counts of malicious wounding and a count of leaving the scene of an accident.
Lunsford urged the jury to find Fields guilty of “no more than” the lesser charges of manslaughter in Heyer’s death and unlawful wounding in the injuries he caused to others.