Virginia city hopes to heal after man's murder conviction

Lamar Ellis
December 8, 2018

Self-professed neo-Nazi James Alex Fields Jr. was convicted of first-degree murder on Friday for killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer when he intentionally drove his vehicle into a group of counterprotesters at last year's violent Unite the Right rally that brought scores of white supremacists to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia.

The jury had the option of convicting Fields on lesser charges, but found he maliciously, willfully and deliberately drove into the crowd near 4th and Water streets.

He was found to have run over several people, including Heyer, with his Dodge Challenger. One of those federal charges is eligible for the death penalty.

Fields, who expounded neo-nazi and white supremacist ideals prior to the attack, was recently charged with first-degree murder for killing Heyer.

The car-ramming capped a day of tension and physical clashes between hundreds of white supremacists and neo-Nazis who had assembled in Charlottesville to protest against the removal of statues commemorating two Confederate generals of the United States Civil War, and groups of opposing demonstrators.

The jury, comprising seven women and five men, is scheduled to be back in court Monday - weather permitting - for the beginning of the sentencing phase. Defense attorneys argued Fields had plowed into the crowd out of fear.

He had just left the company of people he was with earlier and felt vulnerable by himself, Lunsford said. "The difference between a joyful crowd and an angry mob lies in the beholder".

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James Alex Fields Jr., (2nd L with shield) is seen attending the "Unite the Right" rally in Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017. Jurors were shown a text message he sent to his mother days before the rally that included an image of the notorious German dictator.

One of Fields' former teachers said the 21-year-old showed a strong interest in Nazi ideology and Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in high school.

"This is not the face of someone who is scared", Antony said.

Defence attorneys never disputed that Fields was behind the wheel of the Dodge Charger that sent bodies flying when it crashed into a crowd on 12 August a year ago, killing counter-protester Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring 19 others.

According to The Associated Press, he also told his mother while in jail that he was mobbed "by a violent group of terrorists" at the rally.

But prosecutor Nina Antony countered that taped phone calls from jail showed that Fields lacked empathy with his victims, calling Heyer's mother Bro an "anti-white communist". Fields faces charges of second-degree murder, malicious woundings and leaving the scene of an accident.

It was a revised version of slurs shouted by white-supremacist-rally participants in 2017 who yelled "Jews will not replace us".

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