The white supremacist who deliberately drove his car into a crowd of counter protesters at a rally in Virginia, has been convicted of first-degree murder.
Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal and civil rights activist, was killed when James Alex Fields Jr., 21, of Maumee, Ohio, plowed his Dodge Challenger into the crowd at the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017.
Fields is now facing a maximum sentence of life in jail after the jury found him guilty of ten charges including first-degree murder on Friday. His sentencing hearing begins on Monday.
He has also been separately indicted on federal hate crime charges, which carries the death penalty if he’s found guilty.
In delivering its verdict late Friday afternoon, the jury rejected arguments by Fields’ lawyers that he had acted in self-defense.
Fields was said to have appeared stoic as the guilty verdict was read aloud.
Fields (left) as shown in a courtroom sketch from his trial’s jury selection on November 26, and right in his arrest mugshot
Prosecutors said Fields drove his car directly into a crowd of counterprotesters because he was angry after witnessing earlier violent clashes between the two sides earlier in the day. The violence prompted police to shut down the rally before it even officially began.
But, Fields’ lawyers told the jury that he drove into the crowd on the day of the rally because he feared for his life and was ‘scared to death’ by earlier violence he had witnessed.
A video of Fields being interrogated after the crash showed him sobbing and hyperventilating after he was told a woman had died and others were seriously injured.
Fields had driven to Virginia from his home in Ohio to support the white nationalists at the rally. 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.
During the incident, Heyer was killed, and nearly three dozen others were injured.
Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal and civil rights activist, was killed when Fields drove his car into the crowd of counterprotesters at the Charlottesville rally in August 2017
Photographs showed the moment when Fields drove his Dodge Challenger into the crowd of counterprotestors during the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017
An image showing the front-end damage Fields’ car sustained after smashing into the crowd
After deliberating for about seven hours, jurors convicted Fields of first-degree murder, five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, three counts of malicious wounding and one hit and run — 10 charges in total.
The trial featured emotional testimony from survivors who described devastating injuries and long, complicated recoveries.
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.
Fields (with black shield) is shown supporting white nationalists at the rally prior to driving into the crowd and being arrested by police
Prosecutors said that Fields’ decision to drive into the crowd was deliberate, but his defense lawyers argued that he had been motivated by self-defense after witnessing the rally violence
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 jury will reconvene Monday for a sentencing hearing which could take two days to complete. The jury will hear evidence and then will recommend a sentence to the judge.
Under the law, jurors can recommend from 20 years to life in prison.
Fields is eligible for the death penalty if convicted of separate federal hate crime charges, but a no trial for those charges has been scheduled yet.
The ‘Unite the Right,’ far-right rally had been organized in part to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Hundreds of Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis and other white nationalists — emboldened by the election of President Donald Trump — streamed into Charlottesville for one of the largest gatherings of white supremacists in a decade. Some dressed in battle gear.
Afterward, Trump inflamed tensions even further when he said ‘both sides’ were to blame, a comment some saw as a refusal to condemn racism.
Local activists outside the courtroom following Fields’ guilty verdict Friday