Man who drove into crowd con­victed

The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH) - - FRONT PAGE - By Denise Lavoie AP Le­gal Af­fairs Writer

CHAR­LOTTES­VILLE, VA. >> A man who drove his car into a crowd of coun­ter­protesters at a white na­tion­al­ist rally in Vir­ginia last year was con­victed Fri­day of first-de­gree mur­der, a ver­dict that com­mu­nity lead­ers and civil rights ac­tivists hope will help heal a com­mu­nity still scarred by the vi­o­lence and the racial and po­lit­i­cal 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.

White na­tion­al­ist Richard Spencer, who had been sched­uled to speak at the Unite the Right rally, de­scribed the ver­dict as a “mis­car­riage of jus­tice.”

“I am sadly not shocked, but I am ap­palled by this,” he told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

“He was treated as a ter­ror­ist from the get-go.”

Spencer had ques­tioned whether Fields could get a fair trial since the case was “so emo­tional.”

“There does not seem to be any rea­son­able ev­i­dence put for­ward that he en­gaged in mur­der­ous in­tent,” Spencer said.

The jury will re­con­vene Mon­day to rec­om­mend a sen­tence. Un­der Vir­ginia law, ju­rors can rec­om­mend from 20 years to life in prison on the first-de­gree mur­der charge.

Fields is el­i­gi­ble for the death penalty if con­victed of sep­a­rate fed­eral hate crime charges.

No trial has been sched­uled yet.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Su­san Bro, left, mother of Heather Heyer is hugged by a sup­porter on the steps of the court­house af­ter a guilty ver­dict was reached in the trial of James Alex Fields Jr., at Char­lottes­ville Gen­eral dis­trict court in Char­lottes­ville, Va.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.