Archive

ShareThis Page
Virginia city seeks healing after man’s murder conviction | TribLIVE.com
U.S./World

Virginia city seeks healing after man’s murder conviction

The Associated Press
| Saturday, December 8, 2018 7:12 p.m
523474523474ce1648b34b144643819c49588bb6fea5
Local activists raise their fists outside Charlottesville General District Court after a guilty verdict was reached in the trial of James Alex Fields Jr., in Charlottesville, Va., Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Fields was convicted of first degree murder in the death of Heather Heyer as well as nine other counts during a 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville . (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
5234745234742a30225c05e44f11a4cb2a02e14f9288
Susan Bro, center, mother of Heather Heyer, is escorted down the steps of the courthouse after a guilty verdict was reached in the trial of James Alex Fields Jr., Friday, Dec. 7, 2018, at Charlottesville General district court in Charlottesville, Va. Fields was convicted of first degree murder in the death of Heather Heyer as well as nine other counts during a 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville . (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
523474523474f46b5306aed4429fa449a24acc3c3c7b
FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail shows James Alex Fields Jr. Jurors in the trial of the man accused of killing a woman and injuring dozens at a white nationalist rally are expected to hear closing arguments in the case after testimony from final defense witnesses. Fields is charged with first-degree murder and other counts for driving his car into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017. (Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail via AP, File)
5234745234748173b528ed5d4ab2afb7a03a9074546d
Local activists raise their fists outside Charlottesville General District Court after a guilty verdict was reached in the trial of James Alex Fields Jr., in Charlottesville, Va., Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Fields was convicted of first degree murder in the death of Heather Heyer as well as nine other counts during a 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville . (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
523474523474810a942ea7274b448fd93561f9d9f9fb
Susan Bro, left, mother of Heather Heyer is hugged by a supporter on the steps of the courthouse after a guilty verdict was reached in the trial of James Alex Fields Jr., Friday, Dec. 7, 2018, at Charlottesville General district court in Charlottesville, Va. Fields was convicted of first degree murder in the death of Heather Heyer as well as nine other counts during a 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville . (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Civil rights activists in this Virginia city say they hope the first-degree-murder conviction of a man who drove into a group of counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally in 2017 will help with healing their violence-scarred community.

In convicting James Alex Fields Jr. of first-degree murder, a state jury on Friday rejected defense arguments that the 21-year-old defendant had acted in self-defense during a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017. Jurors also convicted Fields of eight other charges, including aggravated malicious wounding and hit and run.

The jury will reconvene Monday to recommend a sentence. Under Virginia law, jurors can recommend from 20 years to life in prison on the first-degree murder charge.

Fields is eligible for the death penalty if convicted of separate federal hate crime charges. No trial has been scheduled yet.

During trial, jurors heard that Fields drove to Virginia from his home in Maumee, Ohio, to support the white nationalists. 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.

Prosecutors said Fields was angry after witnessing violent clashes between the two sides earlier in the day. The violence prompted police to shut down the rally before it even officially began.

Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal, was killed, and nearly three dozen others were injured. The trial featured emotional testimony from survivors who described devastating injuries and long, complicated recoveries.

After the verdict was read, some of those who had been injured embraced Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro. She left the courthouse without commenting.

Charlottesville City Councilor Wes Bellamy said he hopes the verdict “allows our community to take another step toward healing and moving forward.”

Charlottesville civil rights activist Tanesha Hudson said she sees the guilty verdict as the city’s way of saying, “We will not tolerate this in our city.”

“We don’t stand for this type of hate,” she said.

White nationalist Richard Spencer, who had been scheduled to speak at the Unite the Right rally, described the verdict as a “miscarriage of justice.”

“I am sadly not shocked, but I am appalled by this,” he told The Associated Press of Field’s conviction. “He was treated as a terrorist from the get-go.”

Spencer popularized the term “alt-right” to describe a fringe movement loosely mixing white nationalism, anti-Semitism and other far-right extremist views. He said he doesn’t feel any personal responsibility for the violence.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “As a citizen, I have a right to protest. I have a right to speak. That is what I came to Charlottesville to do.”

The 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 the college town for one of the largest gatherings of white supremacists in a decade.

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.

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. He posted the meme publicly to his Instagram page.

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.

Wednesday Bowie, who was struck by Fields’ car and suffered a broken pelvis and other injuries, said she was gratified by the guilty verdict.

“This is the best I’ve been in a year and a half,” Bowie said.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com 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.