James Fields convicted of first-degree murder in Charlottesville car attack

By  | 

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WHSV) — UPDATE (5:07 p.m. Dec. 7):

James Alex Fields, Jr., 20, of Maumee, Ohio was arrested on suspicion of second-degree murder, and the car that rammed into the Charlottesville rally, Photo Date: 8/12/2017 / Photo: Abermarle Charlottesville Regional Jail / (MGN)

James Alex Fields, Jr., the man who drove a car into a crowd of protesters at the 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville, has been convicted of first-degree murder for the death of Heather Heyer.

He was also found guilty of the highest degree of all charges against him, including five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, three counts of malicious wounding, and one count of leaving the scene of a crash. Those charges were connected to the other protesters injured when Fields' Dodge Challenger slammed into the crowd at an estimated speed of 28 mph., according to Virginia State Police.

Fields appeared stoic as the verdict was read in a courtroom late Friday afternoon. Jurors delivered their decision after deliberating for about seven hours.

In delivering its verdict late Friday afternoon, the jury rejected arguments by lawyers for Fields that he acted in self-defense during the events in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017.

Fields, 21, of Maumee, Ohio, 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.

Fields' lawyers told the jury he feared for his life after witnessing the violence.

The rally was held to protest Charlottesville's planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Hundreds of Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis and other white nationalists streamed into the college town for one of the largest gatherings of white supremacists in a decade. Some dressed in battle gear.

According to one of his former teachers, Fields was known in high school for being fascinated with Nazism and idolizing Adolf Hitler. Jurors were shown a text message he sent to his mother days before the rally that included an image of the notorious German dictator. When his mother pleaded with him to be careful, he replied: "we're not the one (sic) who need to be careful."

During one of two recorded phone calls Fields made to his mother from jail in the months after he was arrested, he told her he had been mobbed "by a violent group of terrorists" at the rally. In another, Fields referred to the mother of the woman who was killed as a "communist" and "one of those anti-white supremacists."

Prosecutors also showed jurors a meme Fields posted on Instagram three months before the rally in which bodies are shown being thrown into the air after a car hits a crowd of people identified as protesters. He posted the meme publicly to his Instagram page and sent a similar image as a private message to a friend in May 2017.

The crowds of white nationalists had been dispersed by Virginia State Police well before Fields accelerated down Fourth Street, through a barricade where a trooper had earlier been station, into a crowd of protesters.

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

The jury will reconvene Monday to determine a sentence. Under the law, jurors can recommend from 20 years to life in prison for the murder charge, and additional time for every malicious wounding charge. The sentencing hearing could take two days.

Fields is eligible for the death penalty if convicted of separate federal hate crime charges. No trial has been scheduled for those charges yet, however.


This story will be updated every day of the trial, which is scheduled to last three weeks.

To go to a particular day of the trial, click on the links below.

Pretrial Summary - Day 1 - Day 2 - Day 3 -
Day 4 - Day 5 - Day 6 - Day 7 - Day 8 - Day 9

Day 9

The attorneys summarized their cases in their closing arguments in the trial against James Fields, Jr., who is accused of ramming his car into a crowd of counter-protesters on Aug. 12, 2017. The jury decided to begin deliberations Friday morning.

After a short break during which several motions were heard without the jury present in the courtroom, attorneys began their closing arguments.

Fields' attorney, Denise Lunsford, spoke for more than an hour, mentioning the interrogation video and saying it demonstrates Fields' history of mental health issues.

However, she did not call a mental health expert to testify.

She also spoke about the types of people who attended the Unite the Right rally on Aug. 12, 2017, explaining there were a lot of misconception about the people who came to Charlottesville for the event and why they were here. She said not everyone came to fight.

"People who weren't from Charlottesville didn't come here to protest on one side," said Lunsford. "Not all of them were here because they wanted to unite the right."

She claims Fields got lost trying to leave the city.

"He didn't turn left because he couldn't, so he followed [a Toyota Camry] across the mall," said Lunsford.

That Camry was driven by Tay Washington.

For the Commonwealth, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Nina Antony spent time reinforcing the definition of premeditation, which is required for the first-degree murder charge against Fields.

She said premeditation can occur anywhere between several months to just seconds before a crime is committed.

However, the jury has the option to convict him of second-degree murder, which would mean Fields did not calculate his actions.

Antony played a surveillance video from Red Pump Kitchen on the Downtown Mall showing Fields talking during which he said something about having thought about what would happen next.

"That hatred and anger is what fills his mind on Fourth Street," she said.

She also said there was no evidence anyone harassed Fields' car or anything that kept him from backing up and taking another route.

Late Thursday morning, the trial was temporarily held up after a witness for the defense failed to show in court on time.

The witness was contacted by officials and did appear in court early Thursday afternoon.

That witness, Joshua Matthews, was in the car with Fields for a part of the day on Aug. 12 prior to the deadly crash.

Matthews testified he met up with Fields at McIntire Park after an unlawful assembly was declared at Market Street Park, then known as Emancipation Park.

"We had heard anyone at McIntire Park would be arrested too," he said.

Matthews said he went with Fields to get back downtown because he said it would be safer.

"He seemed calm and normal like everyone else, and maybe a little scared," said Matthews.

During cross-examination by the Commonwealth, prosecutors asked if Fields ever got angry at anyone.

Matthews said he yelled at a group of antifascists, commonly known as "antifas."

Fields also met up Hayden Calhoun and his girlfriend Sarah Bolstad, eventually stopping at the former Shell station on Preston Avenue.

Matthews also testified Fields eventually dropped him off at the Market Street parking garage, sometime before the deadly crash.

Judge Richard Moore issued a capias warrant for Matthews, requiring the Augusta County Sheriff's Office to arrest and detain him to make sure he appeared in court after the defense team could not reach him.

However, deputies did not have to arrest him. Matthews answered his phone shortly after the warrant was issued and said he was on his way into Charlottesville.

Still, Matthews was held in contempt of court following his testimony and is expected to have a hearing Thursday afternoon.

Earlier in the morning, the defense called Dwayne Dixon, a professor from the University of North Carolina and a member of the left-wing defense group Redneck Revolt, to testify.

He said he saw a gray muscle car drive around the area of Market Street three times between 12:30 p.m. and 1:15 p.m. on the afternoon of Aug. 12, 2017.

Dixon said, when he saw the car pass the third time, he tried to shoo the driver away, yelling, "Get the [expletive] out of here."

He also testified he was carrying an AR-15, but he had the barrel pointed downward and never pointed it at the driver, whom he could not see because the windows were tinted.

Dixon also said he did not see the actual crash because he was in the middle of an interview.

The defense has tried to prove Fields acted in self-defense.

Fields is accused of first-degree murder, aggravated malicious wounding and malicious wounding in the case.

The trial was scheduled to last for three weeks, but has gone much faster than anticipated.
Return to Top

Day 8

Day eight of the James Fields, Jr. trial was slightly delayed on Wednesday due to an issue with the jury.

A juror told the judge they overheard someone talking about what they thought could have been related to the case.

Court was supposed to begin at 9 a.m., but the judge and attorneys had to question each of the jurors individually.

The judge said after questioning, what the juror overheard was not related to the case or facts of the case.

"These things happen," said Judge Richard Moore.

Once court began around 11 a.m., the defense called a Unite the Right rally attendee to the stand to testify about his interaction with Fields.

Hayden Calhoun, a Chesterfield County resident, said he parked at the Jefferson School to attend the Unite the Right rally at Emancipation Park with his then-girlfriend around 10 a.m. on Aug. 12, 2017.

Calhoun said he worked his way inside of the park and stayed for about 45 minutes, then had to use the restroom.

He said he walked to the McDonald's on Ridge Street. By the time he returned, violence had broken out and an unlawful assembly was declared.

Calhoun said he and his then-girlfriend followed a group of protesters to McIntire Park.

Shortly after, they decided to return to downtown, where they interacted with Fields and his friend Joshua Matthews and hitched a ride with them.

"They said us two would be targets if we went back alone," said Calhoun.

Fields eventually dropped them off back at their car.

Calhoun also testified he contacted the Richmond FBI office after he learned Fields was the suspect in the crash on Fourth Street.

Virginia State Police Senior Trooper Clifford Thomas testified about the reconstruction of the crash scene.

He said he accessed the airbag control modules and event data recorder, or EDR, from the vehicles involved.

There was no airbag control module data recovered from Field's Dodge Challenger. Thomas could not elaborate on why because each manufacturer constructs them differently, which causes them to activate at different speeds.

The minivan involved in the crash did not have one because it was manufactured before they were required.

However, Thomas did recover the module from Tay Washington's Toyota Camry, which help shed light on how fast Fields was driving when his car plowed into the crowd of people.

Thomas testified data from Washington's car showed the impact of the crash caused it to be pushed from zero miles per hour to 17.1 miles per hour in 150 milliseconds.

He also said he used aerial data footage to calculate Fields' speed before the crash, which showed he was traveling at 23 miles per hour, which was determined by using a stationary black truck as a reference point.

The truck was parked in the area before the crash happened.

Thomas said the maximum speed Fields was driving before the crash was 28 miles per hour.

A forensic scientist said Fields was just trying to find his way back home.

Philip DePue, who works for Sensei Enterprises, testified he retrieved data from Fields' cellphone from Aug. 12, finding two Google map searches for directions to Maumee, Ohio.

Those searches were conducted at 1:39 p.m., moments before Fields' car hit the crowd. There were two options, both taking Fields onto Market Street instead of continuing down Fourth Street.

"It was hard for us to determine which route was taken," said DePue. "When you request directions, it provides multiple locations."

The trial did not move as quickly as it had been on Wednesday, due to issues with the jury and technology

The defense is wrapping up its case and closing arguments are expected to begin Thursday.
Return to Top

Day 7

On Tuesday, jurors watched an interrogation video from when Fields was arrested, and two phone calls made to his mother while he was in jail.

Fields refused to speak in his interrogation tape and only asked for a lawyer, but began crying and hyperventilating when police told him one person had died and several others were hurt in the crash.

In a recorded phone call to his mother from jail on March 21, 2018, Fields told his mother he was "mobbed by a violent group of terrorists."

"They were waving the ISIS flag," he said while referring to them as anti-fascists. "They support them."

"Everybody supports something," Fields mother replied. "I don't see one better than the other."

In a recorded phone call from Dec. 7, 2017, Fields referred to Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, as an enemy.

"She's one of those anti-white supremacists," said Fields, who also referred to her as a communist.

"She lost her daughter," his mother replied.

"It doesn't [expletive] matter," Fields responded.

Fields' mother then seemed to get angry at her son for that response and told him to stop talking.

Although the jail tapes were admitted as evidence, several parts were redacted due to an objection by the defense.

Only relevant portions were played for the jury, and the jury received copies of them in transcript form.

In both calls, Fields talks about the Nazi flag, Antifa and counter-protesters from Aug. 12, which the judge says also could show malice.

Earlier on Tuesday morning, the judge ruled text exchanges between Fields and his mother before the Unite the Right rally on Aug. 12, 2017 could be submitted as evidence.

He says the jury has the right to consider the texts as evidence because he says they show motive and Fields' state of mind at the time.

On Aug. 8, 2017, Fields texted his mother, "I got the weekend off, so I'll be able to go to the rally."

Two days later, she replied urging him to be careful.

Fields then replied on Aug. 11, "We're not the one [sic] who need to be careful." He also sent a small image of Adolf Hitler.

The prosecution argues this shows malice, which is a critical part of the first-degree murder charge Fields faces for the death of Heyer.

The defense says the image shows prejudice and has no value as evidence in the case.

The judge sided with the Commonwealth, saying the image shows malice, including both hatred and danger, which the jury has the right to see.

The motions hearing on this evidence took most of the morning, delaying when the prosecutors could continue calling witnesses.

The prosecution rested its case around 2:40 p.m. Tuesday

About two dozen witnesses were called to testify regarding the car attack on Fourth and Water streets.

The defense started presenting its case Tuesday afternoon, saying Fields acted in self-defense.

Fields' attorneys say he feared for his life and had no intent to kill anyone when the crash occurred.

One of the defense's first witnesses was Tammy Shifflett, the Charlottesville Police Department officer who had been manning the barricade at Market and Fourth streets.

She testified she was in place to direct traffic onto Market so vehicles could not take Fourth toward the Downtown Mall, but she started to get overwhelmed and moved a few minutes before the crash.

"It was definitely more than I could handle by myself," said Shifflett. "The crowd was just overtaking me."

The defense also made a procedural motion to strike all charges except one, claiming the Commonwealth didn't prove the intent to kill.

Judge Richard Moore denied the motion, saying "I don't know what intent he could have had other than to kill people."

The trial is moving much faster than initially anticipated, though it is still scheduled to last through next week.
Return to Top

Day 6

The second week of the James Fields, Jr. trial is underway in Charlottesville with testimony continuing.

On Monday, jurors heard from a Charlottesville firefighter who responded to the crash scene at Fourth and Water streets.

Captain Nick Barrell told the jury Heather Heyer was a "salvageable" patient when he responded to the scene, which meant she had a chance to survive her injuries with medical attention.

However, he said the color of her face started turning blue and she slipped into cardiac arrest.

Barrell said Heyer had multi-system trauma, suffering injuries to her respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

He also noticed she had a large bruise on her chest, which indicated something large had hit her. The instantaneous appearance of the bruise indicated severe trauma, he said.

Bystanders had performed basic CPR before Barrell arrived, and Virginia State Police troopers were applying tourniquets to stop bleeding from injuries Heyer suffered on her legs.

Defense attorneys did not cross-examine Barrell and asked few questions of another witness who took the stand before him.

Later in the day, the chief medical examiner's office testified about the manner of Heyer's death.

Jennifer Bowers, the assistant chief medical examiner, testified Heyer died as a result of blunt force injuries to the torso.

The extent of her injuries caused her thoracic aorta, the largest blood vessel in the human body, to split in half.

Bowers also testified Heyer had several contusions and abrasions on her body, including the back, abdomen, and chest.

She said some of the abrasions were larger than six inches. Heyer also had a broken femur.

Bowers also said Heyer suffered lacerations to the liver and her small bowel.

Bowers said Heyer's toxicology report had nothing to do with the cause of death, though it did show Heyer had cannabinoids in her system at the time.

Prosecutors also called to the stand Kristin Van Itallie, a forensic scientist with the Virginia Department of Forensic Science, to testify about DNA and blood samples collected at the scene.

There were DNA samples collected from Heyer along with several samples from the windshield and passenger mirror from Fields' car sent for DNA testing.

Van Itallie testified she received a sample of soft tissue collected from the windshield of Fields' car that she tested in October 2017, which matched Heyer's DNA profile.

Another test indicated the presence of blood, which also matched Heyer's DNA profile.

A second DNA test was run in October 2018 with samples collected from the crash scene.

She said two other samples were similar to Heyer's DNA profile but were not identical, likely because there was DNA from another person mixed in the sample, which resulted in matches to several DNA profiles.

Jurors also heard from a few more victims of the crash, including Marissa Blair-Martin, the wife of Marcus Martin.

She explained to the jury she was friends with Heyer from working with her at the Miller Law Group.

Assistant Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Nina Antony asked Blair-Martin to describe Heyer to the jury.

"Heather was very compassionate, and she cared about people she loved," said Blair-Martin.

She told the jury she arrived in downtown Charlottesville with her husband around 12:30 p.m. that day, saying she was not sure if Heyer would attend the rally.

She met up with Heyer, and her friend Courtney Commander, describing how difficult it was to tell the Unite the Right rally protesters apart from the counter-protesters.

Blair-Martin referred to a group of counter-protesters as
"happy people," because they were singing songs.

She then described the moment of the crash when Fields' car rammed into a crowd of pedestrians.

"It happened so fast," she said. "I remember tires screeching."

She also recalled the moment when her husband tried to push her out of the way and her desperate effort to locate him after the car struck the crowd.

"I saw the red baseball cap and it had blood all over it," she said.

The court adjourned around 2:45 p.m. Monday.

The prosecution has a few more witnesses to call and is expected to wrap up its case on Tuesday before lunch.

Fields is facing first-degree murder and several malicious wounding charges in connection with the event on Aug. 12, 2017.

His trial is scheduled to last through next week.
Return to Top

Day 5

Testimony has resumed in the trial of James Fields, Jr. and focused on the scene of the attack.

A Charlottesville Police Department detective spoke Friday morning about soft tissue that was found on the windshield of Fields' Dodge Challenger.

Detective Jeremy Carper said that tissue was sent away for testing to see if it was Heather Heyer's by comparing it to a cheek swab that was taken from Heyer.

There was also a pair of bloody pants that a friend confirmed were Heyer's because her keys were on them. Those pants were cut off of her by emergency response crews trying to treat her injuries.

Jurors were also shown images of the grill of the car, which was badly damaged when Fields rammed it into a crowd of protesters near the Downtown Mall on Aug. 12, 2017.

Other police evidence from the scene of the crash on Fourth and Water streets was presented, with the detective explaining how crime scenes are investigated.

One piece of that evidence was the passenger side mirror from Fields' car, which was missing when the vehicle was located on Monticello Avenue but was later found near the scene of the attack with blood stains on it.

Carper also spoke about "reddish-brown stains" that were collected at the scene, including several on the car itself.

Lizete Short, the driver of a burgundy minivan that was one of two vehicles hit in the attack, also took the stand Friday.

She explained someone in a colored vest waved for her to make a left turn from Market Street onto Fourth Street, causing her to drive into two crowds of people.

There were three other passengers in Short's vehicle, including her daughter.

She said the first crowd walking in the street had guns and Confederate flags, and "did not look very friendly."

Short then said she drove up on a friendlier crowd singing and chanting at the corner of Fourth and Water streets.

"They were saying positive things, positive enough to where I felt like I could roll the windows down," she said.

Short said she felt like the crowd was making history, and since she could not move out of the intersection, she got out of her vehicle and decided to take pictures.

Short explained it was after that moment when the crash occurred.

"It happened so fast, my van hit me," she said. "I don't remember anything after that."

Short said she ended up on the hood of her minivan and was bleeding, but does not recall much of what happened next.

Prosecutors have also submitted evidence concerning memes that Fields posted online in the months before the Unite the Right rally.

Both memes appear to show a car driving into pedestrians, which the prosecution says show premeditation regarding what happened on Aug. 12.

The defense counters that the memes only show he was running late getting to work and there is no political basis for them.

To view those memes, click on the link in the Related Links box and go to the court filings in November 2018 about Instragram posts and online memes.

Star Peterson, one of the women who was injured in the attack, also took the stand on Friday afternoon. She suffered injuries to her leg that have resulted in numerous surgeries and continuing problems for her.

In her emotional testimony, she described what happened when she saw Heyer be hit and die.

"That's what someone's eyes look like when they're dead," said Peterson.

Jurors have viewed aerial footage of the scene that was taken from a Virginia State Police helicopter on Friday as well.

So far, the defense has not spent a lot of time cross-examining witness, which one legal analyst says is understandable.

"You can't challenge everything, and in fact, so much is undisputed, there's not going to spend a lot of time at all to confront victims," said David Heilberg. "That's a no-no when defending a case."

This is the fifth day of the murder and malicious wounding trial against the Ohio man who attended the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

Jury selection, which the judge called the most complicated process he has ever seen in his legal career, took three days.

Testimony began Thursday with jurors hearing from people who were there when the car hit the people.

An image of one of those witnesses was seen globally and won a Pulitzer Prize for a local newspaper and a former reporter.

Fields has been very emotionless in court, though he has been seen exchanging notes with his attorneys.

The trial is expected to last for three weeks with prosecutors seeking to show that Fields acted with premeditation and the defense working to show that he reacted in self-defense.

The prosecution expects to wrap up its case by Tuesday.
Return to Top

Day 4

The trial of James Fields, Jr. is getting underway after a multi-day jury selection process.

He is accused of ramming his car into a crowd of protesters on Aug. 12, 2017, resulting in the death of Heather Heyer and serious injuries for several other people.

Commonwealth's Attorney Joe Platania and defense attorney Denise Lunsford began the trial by laying out what they intend to try to prove in their opening statements now that a jury of nine women and seven men has been sworn in. Four of those jurors are alternates.

In those statements, prosecutors said, "This case isn't about what he did. It's about what was in his head when he did it."

Also during opening statements, an assistant Commonwealth's Attorney defined premeditation for the jury, which is necessary for a first-degree murder charge. Second-degree murder is usually considered a crime of passion, not premeditated.

The defense said once it has presented its evidence, it expects the jury to acquit Fields.

The jury will have to decide if Fields rammed his car into the crowd with the intent to kill Heyer and hurt many others or if he did it in self-defense.

Prosecutors jumped right into the meat of the case, with victims recounting how their lives have changed, or in some cases, were nearly ended, by the attack.

The first witness for the prosecution, Michael Webster, said that he saw Fields back the car, a Dodge Challenger, up on Fourth Street before it sped into the crowd.

"Oh my god, he's driving into the crowd," said Webster.

He said no one was near the vehicle and nothing was there to stop it from backing all the way up to Market Street.

Marcus Martin, the second witness to take the stand, was one of the people actually hit by the car.

He had a tough time on the stand talking about that day.

Martin's image was seen all over the world due to a photo that was taken of him flying through the air at the moment the car hit the crowd.

He suffered a broken foot.

Martin was marching with Heyer just before her death and described the chaos that resulted.

"The only thing I thought about was getting my wife out of the way," he said. "I pushed her, and that's when I got hit."

A third witness was Brennan Gilmore, who filmed a video of the moment the car ran into the crowd.

He told the jury about the sound of the car accelerating at a high rate of speed and the sounds afterward.

"I heard a sickening sound and saw bodies everywhere," described Gilmore. "The car just plowed through a crowd of bodies."

Jury selection for this trial was a three-day process due to the number of people who were called in to potentially sit on the panel, individual and private questioning of jurors, and other issues.

Judge Richard Moore said on Wednesday that picking the jury for this case was the most complicated selection process he's ever seen in his 35 years of experience as an attorney and a judge.

Susan Bro, Heyer's mother, was seen walking into the court on Thursday morning.

Testimony in this case is expected to be emotional at times as the jury and victims will have to see images and video from Aug. 12.

There is one African-American man on the jury. The rest are Caucasian.

The trial is scheduled to last for a total of three weeks.
Return to Top

Day 3

Officials say 28 potential jurors have been selected for the trial of James Fields, Jr., the man accused of ramming his car into a crowd of protesters on Aug. 12, 2017.

Wednesday is day three of jury selection in Charlottesville Circuit Court.

Fields is facing multiple charges in connection with a car attack that occurred on Aug. 12, 2017, killing one person and injuring more than a dozen others.

Jury selection resumed Wednesday morning and lasted throughout the day.

There were some technical issues with recording the questioning of individual potential jurors in a private room, so the courtroom was cleared until 1 p.m. so the process could continue there.

As of Wednesday morning, 18 people had been selected for an initial jury pool. By 6 p.m., that number had reached 28, the number needed to seat a final jury for the trial.

That number will then be cut to 16 Thursday morning, 12 regular jurors and four alternates.

Local activist Rosia Parker was at the scene of the incident when the car plowed into the crowd of counter-protesters and has been in the courtroom every day so far.

She says she's concerned there were few black people in the original pool of prospective jurors, but she is relieved the trial has begun.

"This here, it means a lot to me, because now justice could be served," said Parker. "You know, because those 29 people that was hurt, you know, they need some type of justice, you know, to their situation.

Once the final cuts are made to the jurors selected to sit for the trial, opening statements will begin on Thursday.

The judge has said this was the most complicated jury selection he's ever seen in his 35 years in the legal field.
Return to Top

Day 2

Jury selection in the James Fields, Jr. trial in Charlottesville continues for a second day on Tuesday.

On Monday, a group of 70 potential jurors was being questioned regarding their ability to set aside any information they may have heard or opinions they had regarding the case and the events of Aug. 12, 2017.

Four of those have been confirmed to the jury that will sit in judgment of Fields. By Tuesday evening, that number had increased to 18. The court needs to get 28 confirmed jurors in order to make sure there is a final jury of 12 with four alternates.

The judge and attorneys have been asking prospective jurors several questions in groups and individually.

Fields is facing multiple charges, including first-degree murder, in connection with a car attack on a crowd of protesters.

His defense attorney, former Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney Denise Lunsford, filed a motion to move the trial from Charlottesville, but that motion was denied pending the seating of a jury.

In questioning Tuesday, the defense also made it clear it will claim that Fields acted in self-defense and introduce evidence concerning his mental health.

One of the attorneys specifically asked the potential jurors if the use of violence in self-defense would ever be appropriate and if any of them had experience with mental health issues.

Prosecutors were also asking if they trust police officers more or less than other people.

Legal analyst Scott Goodman says the court will exhaust every option it has to seat a jury and keep the trial in Charlottesville, especially for the convenience of victims and witnesses and the cost of moving the trial to a different jurisdiction.

"If you move the trial, you have to move the clerk of the court, you have to move members of the sheriff's departments, members of the police department, the judge's staff, the Commonwealth's Attorney, the defense attorneys who live in Charlottesville," he said. "They all have to move to another place for three weeks. They don't want to do that."

On Tuesday afternoon, another batch of more than 100 potential jurors was scheduled to arrive for questioning, but they have now been told to come back on Wednesday at 1 p.m.

The trial is scheduled to last three weeks.
Return to Top

Day 1

Dozens of people were dismissed quickly during jury selection in Charlottesville Circuit Court.

James Fields, Jr. is standing trial for first-degree murder, five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, three counts of malicious wounding, and failure to stop at the scene of a fatal accident in connection with a car attack on Aug. 12, 2017.

In court on Monday, five malicious wounding charges were upgraded to aggravated malicious wounding and three malicious assault charges were upgraded to malicious wounding.

He is accused of ramming his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.

Fields was escorted into the courthouse under heavy guard around 7:30 a.m. Monday.

Attorneys are looking for people who do not want to sit on the jury in an attempt to give Fields a fair and impartial jury due to the high-profile nature of the events of Aug. 12, 2017, the number of people impacted by them, and coverage of the case.

The court started with a large jury pool that was quickly whittled down to 70 who were being questioned Monday afternoon regarding their ability to set aside any opinions and information they have previously made or seen concerning the case.

In one instance, a potential juror said he was at the scene of the incident on Aug. 12.

Of that 70, 28 were randomly selected to be the initial group to undergo questioning to narrow it down to 12 regular jurors and four alternates.

All of those people have said they have heard or read information concerning the case, 22 have visited the scene of the crime, and 15 said they have previously expressed opinions concerning Fields' innocence or guilt.

However, they have all said so far that they can set aside the information and opinions to consider only what is presented in the trial.

After a lunch break, several potential jurors were questioned in private.

Several people may still be removed from the jury pool due to scheduling conflicts caused by the length of the trial, which is also why the court wants four alternates.

During their questioning, defense attorneys may have hinted at their arguments, asking if people believed violence could ever be justified in cases of self-defense.

Jury selection has been scheduled to last three days, but it could wrap up on Tuesday.
Return to Top

Pretrial Summary

James Alex Fields, Jr., from Maumee, Ohio, is accused of crashing his vehicle into a crowd of people in downtown Charlottesville following the Unite the Right rally on Aug. 12, 2017. Fields' three-week trial is scheduled to begin on Nov. 26.

Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old woman from Charlottesville, was killed, and 19 others were hurt. The group of people hit by the car had gathered in Charlottesville to protest against white nationalist groups.

At the time they were hit, many of them were chanting and holding signs promoting equality and protesting against racial discrimination. Some of those injured remained hospitalized for several days and face permanent physical disabilities.

Fields was seen earlier in the day rallying with white nationalist groups in Emancipation Park. He was 20 years old on the day of the rally. A former high school teacher remembered Fields being infatuated with Nazis while he was a student.

According to testimony given by a Charlottesville Police Department detective during Fields' preliminary hearing, Virginia State Police troopers were able to track Fields' vehicle using helicopter surveillance following the crash on Fourth Street.

Fields was arrested shortly afterward when police found him in his damaged Dodge Charger just a few blocks from the crash site.

A detective testified that Fields wept when he learned that someone had died in the crash, and he asked that any ambulance that might be called for him should instead be sent to Fourth Street.

Fields is being defended by Denise Lunsford, the former Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney who is now in private practice.

In August, Lunsford filed a motion to move Fields' trial away from Charlottesville, arguing that the community was so affected by the events of the Unite the Right rally that it would be very difficult to find an impartial jury.

Prosecutors argued that the trial should stay in the city, and that the jury pool should be increased to 360 people. Judge Richard Moore agreed with the prosecution, saying he preferred to keep the trial in Charlottesville, but he left open the possibility of moving the trial if jury selection fails to deliver an impartial jury.

Fields was initially charged with second-degree murder, but that was upgraded to first-degree murder during a hearing on Dec. 14, 2017. He also faces five felony counts of malicious wounding, three felony counts of malicious assault, and one felony count of leaving the scene of a fatal crash.

As part of an independent review, former federal prosecutor Tim Heaphy reported how a driver was able to get onto Fourth Street following the rally, even though it was supposed to be blocked.

Heaphy's report said a school resource officer was initially blocking access to Fourth Street with her police vehicle. However, the officer and her vehicle were moved after she said she felt threatened by crowds of people leaving the rally, and she was needed to help respond to a report of an assault in the Market Street Parking Garage.

No police vehicle or police officer was returned to that intersection, which left Fourth Street open to vehicle access.

Fields also faces 30 federal hate crime charges. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges. No date has been set for Fields' federal trial, but there is a conference scheduled with Judge Michael Urbanski on Dec. 7.

During a hearing in federal court, Fields said he is receiving psychiatric care and is medicated for conditions including bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression and ADHD.
Return to Top