CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WCAV) — UPDATE (Nov. 29):
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)
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 will begin 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. There are also four alternate jurors.
The jury will have to decide if Fields rammed his car into the crowd with the intent to kill Heyer and hurting many others or if he did it in self-defense.
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 three weeks.
UPDATE (Nov. 28):
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 down to 16 Thursday morning, including 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.
UPDATE (12 p.m. Nov. 27):
Jury selection in the James Fields, Jr. trial in Charlottesville continued for a second day on Tuesday.
On Monday, a group of 70 potential jurors was 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 during the "Unite the Right" rally in which Fields allegedly drove a car into a crowd of protesters, killing Heather Heyer.
Four of those 70, which were narrowed from over 300, have been confirmed to the jury that will sit in judgment of Fields.
The court needs to get 28 confirmed jurors before they can continue to the final selection process for 12 regular jurors and four alternates.
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 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 e appropriate and if any of them had experience with mental health issues.
On Tuesday afternoon, another batch of more than 100 potential jurors is scheduled to arrive fo questioning.
Jury selection may continue through Wednesday.
The trial is scheduled to last three weeks.
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.
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.