Judge tosses 2 charges against white nationalist Christopher Cantwell
The white nationalist who was facing three felony charges stemming from the Aug. 11 torch rally on the University of Virginia Grounds is now facing only one charge.
Christopher Cantwell of Keene, New Hampshire, is accused of pepper-spraying counterprotesters during an Aug. 11 Charlottesville protest, a day before the much larger white nationalist rally in the city.
he was initially charged with illegal use of a gas, illegal use of a gas with malice, and unlawful injury by means of a toxic substance.
After a six-hour preliminary hearing that included testimony from Cantwell's two accusers and Cantwell himself, Judge William Barkley dismissed the bodily injury and malicious use of gas charges. He cited a change in witness testimony and a lack of evidence showing that Cantwell acted with malice.
Security was extremely tight for the preliminary hearing, and the courtroom was packed with more than a dozen Cantwell supporters, including Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler, and a greater number of protesters.
One of Cantwell's accusers, Kristopher Goad, who lives in Richmond, testified Thursday morning that he had misidentified Cantwell in his original complaint as the person who attacked him with pepper gel. He said Cantwell did use pepper spray against him at another point that night.
Defense attorney Elmer Woodard argued that Goad had lied and that the charge must be dropped as a result.
Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Tracci said Goad had corrected his claim when he realized the error. Tracci said he had notified the defense as soon as he learned that Goad's testimony would change.
Cantwell's second accuser, Emily Gorcenski, testified that she was pepper sprayed on Aug. 11, and figured out Cantwell was to blame from photos and videos posted online after the incident showing Cantwell releasing pepper spray.
Woodard noted that Gorcenski had already tracked Cantwell down at Walmart earlier in the day, and he described her as "an antifa operative who stalked my client," an accusation Gorcenski denied.
"My belief is that it was his spray and no one else's," she said on the stand.
Cantwell also testified, saying he was carrying pepper spray and a flashlight as he marched with the torch-bearing mob from Nameless Field to the Rotunda on Aug. 11.
He said he was charged by a man wearing a beanie hat, which led him to use the pepper spray in self-defense.
While he came to Charlottesville armed with five guns that weekend, he said he did not bring firearms on the Friday night march after hearing guns were not permitted on UVA Grounds.
"I was hoping to avoid violence," he said.
The single charge will now be sent to a grand jury. Cantwell remains at the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail.
After the hearing, Woodard left the courthouse without comment.
Tracci said his office is considering next steps, including possible charging decisions.