Jury selection underway in trial of self-professed neo-Nazi James Fields Jr. |

Jury selection underway in trial of self-professed neo-Nazi James Fields Jr.

The Washington Post

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — As jury selection began in the murder trial of self-professed neo-Nazi James A. Fields Jr., one of his lawyers hinted Monday that Fields’ defense could include a claim that he believed he was protecting himself when he allegedly killed a woman by ramming his car into another vehicle on a crowded street during a white supremacists rally here 15 months ago.

Questioning prospective jurors in Charlottesville Circuit Court, defense attorney John Hill suggested that the panel might hear during the trial that Fields, now 21, “thought he was acting in self-defense” when he allegedly crashed his 2010 Dodge Challenger intentionally at the Unite the Right rally on Aug. 12, 2017. The crash killed counterprotester Heather Heyer, 32, and injured 35 other people.

With more than 100 prospective jurors sitting in Judge Richard Moore’s courtroom Monday morning, Hill was questioning the first group of 28 Charlottesville residents in the jury pool. He asked whether any of them were familiar with self-defense law in Virginia. No one said yes.

There also was an indication that Fields mental state could be an issue in the trial. In listing 16 possible defense witnesses, another of Fields’ attorneys, Denise Lunsford, mentioned the names of several people affiliated with the University of Virginia’s Institute of Law, Psychiatry & Public Policy. The institute’s Web page describes it as a “program in mental health, forensic psychiatry, forensic psychology” and several related disciplines, including “forensic clinical evaluations.”

She also listed Fields’ mother as a possible witness.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania listed 40 possible prosecution witnesses, many of them law enforcement officers and emergency first-responders.

Fields, of Maumee, Ohio, near Toledo, is accused of first-degree murder in Heyer’s death. He also is charged with five counts of aggravated malicious wounding and three counts of malicious wounding for eight of the 35 injured people. The lethal incident climaxed a day of violent clashes involving hundreds of white supremacists and their opponents, an outpouring of racist and anti-Semitic hate that galvanized national attention on emboldened ethno-fascism in the era of President Trump.

Jury selection could take until midweek, followed by testimony and legal arguments extending into mid-December. In a sign that empaneling an impartial jury could be difficult, most of the prospective panel members in the group of 28 raised their hands when Judge Moore asked whether they were familiar with the mayhem that occurred during the rally.

When the 28 were asked if they had formed opinions about Fields’s guilt or innocence, 15 of them raised their hands. But all later indicated that they could put aside their opinions and render verdicts based strictly on the evidence in the case.

In this courtroom sketch, James Alex Fields Jr., second from left, appears along with his attorneys, Denise Lunsford, left, and John Hill, front right, as Judge Richard E. Moore, top right, reads charges during jury selection in the trial of Fields in Charlottesville General District Court in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 26, 2018. A court clerk is at top left.
Jury selection is set to begin in the trial of James Alex Fields Jr., accused of killing a woman during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.