Man who drove into Va. crowd con­victed of mur­der

Jury re­jects self-de­fense ar­gu­ment from de­fen­dant

The Day - - WORLD & NATION -

Char­lottesville, Va. — A man who drove his car into coun­ter­protesters at a 2017 white na­tion­al­ist rally in Vir­ginia was con­victed Fri­day of first-de­gree mur­der, a ver­dict that lo­cal civil rights ac­tivists hope will help heal a com­mu­nity still scarred by the vi­o­lence and the racial ten­sions it in­flamed na­tion­wide.

A state jury re­jected de­fense ar­gu­ments that James Alex Fields Jr. acted in self-de­fense dur­ing a “Unite the Right” rally in Char­lottesville on Aug. 12, 2017. Ju­rors also con­victed Fields of eight other charges, in­clud­ing ag­gra­vated ma­li­cious wound­ing and hit and run.

Fields, 21, drove to Vir­ginia from his home in Maumee, Ohio, to sup­port the white na­tion­al­ists. As a large group of coun­ter­protesters marched through Char­lottesville singing and laugh­ing, he stopped his car, backed up, then sped into the crowd, ac­cord­ing to tes­ti­mony from wit­nesses and video sur­veil­lance shown to ju­rors.

Pros­e­cu­tors told the jury that Fields was an­gry af­ter wit­ness­ing violent clashes be­tween the two sides ear­lier in the day. The vi­o­lence prompted po­lice to shut down the rally be­fore it even of­fi­cially be­gan.

Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old para­le­gal and civil rights ac­tivist, was killed, and nearly three dozen oth­ers were in­jured. The trial fea­tured emo­tional tes­ti­mony from sur­vivors who de­scribed dev­as­tat­ing in­juries and long, com­pli­cated re­cov­er­ies.

Af­ter the ver­dict was read in court, some of those who were in­jured em­braced Heyer’s mother, Su­san Bro. She left the court­house with­out com­ment­ing. Fields’ mother, Sa­man­tha Bloom, who is dis­abled, left the court­house in a wheel­chair with­out com­ment­ing.

A group of about a dozen lo­cal civil rights ac­tivists stood in front of the court­house af­ter the ver­dict with their right arms raised in the air.

“They will not re­place us! 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.”

Char­lottesville City Coun­cilor Wes Bel­lamy said he hopes the ver­dict “al­lows our com­mu­nity to take an­other step to­ward heal­ing and mov­ing for­ward.”

Char­lottesville civil rights ac­tivist Tane­sha Hud­son said she sees the guilty ver­dict as the city’s way of say­ing, “We will not tol­er­ate this in our city.”

“We don’t stand for this type of hate. We just don’t,” she said.

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