Neo-Nazi backer con­victed in car-ram­ming trial

The Mercury News - - News - By Joe Heim and Kris­tine Phillips

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.

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.


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