Man who drove into Charlottesville crowd convicted of first-degree murder

James Alex Fields Jr. convicted of eight other charges, including aggravated malicious wounding

  • Dec. 7, 2018 2:40 p.m.

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail shows James Alex Fields Jr. The Ohio man pleaded not guilty to federal hate crime charges in a deadly car attack on a crowd of protesters opposing a white nationalist rally in Virginia. (Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail via AP, File)

A man who drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally in Virginia was convicted Friday of first-degree murder for killing a woman in an attack that inflamed long-simmering racial and political tensions across the country.

A state jury rejected arguments that James Alex Fields Jr. 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.

Fields, 21, 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 told the jury that 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 and civil rights activist, was killed, and nearly three dozen others were injured. The trial featured emotional testimony from survivors who described devastating injuries and long, complicated recoveries.

READ MORE: Hate crime charges levelled after Charlottesville attack

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. 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.

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. He posted the meme publicly to his Instagram page and sent a similar image as a private message to a friend in May 2017.

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.

The jury will reconvene Monday to determine a sentence. 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. No trial has been scheduled yet.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

‘I thought I was dead as soon as I saw the gun’

Keremeos gas station attendant tells story about man with gun coming to store

Another successful year for Cram the Cruiser Keremeos

Volunteers held another Cram the Cruiser event in Keremeos on Monday.

Investigation into Naramata fire chief could wrap up before year end

An outside company has been investigating Naramata fire chief since Oct. 22 when he was suspended

Penticton cops investigating break in at Coyote Cruises

Thieves entered the closed building through the roof

South Okanagan ski hills hoping Mother Nature will bring snow

Apex Mountain Resort opening some runs, Baldy still uncertain

Man caught on camera allegedly trying to defraud ICBC

Auto-insurer warns B.C. drivers to record info after crashes

‘People talk about deep sadness:’ Scientists study climate change grief

Some call it environmental grief, some call it solastalgia — a word coined for a feeling of homesickness when home changes around you.

As protectors abandon Trump, investigation draws closer

Cohen was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison for an array of crimes.

Senate delays start of sittings in new home, delaying start of broadcasts

The Senate and House of Commons are moving into temporary homes for the next decade as a result of long-planned and badly needed renovations to the Centre Block.

UK leader seeks EU lifeline after surviving confidence vote

EU leaders gather for a two-day summit, beginning Thursday, which will center on the Brexit negotiations.

Warrant issued for South Okanagan man facing manslaughter charges

Sylvain Modeste Demers is wanted on a warrant

Snowfall warning for Coquihalla, B.C. highways

It’s another wintry day for B.C. highways

French police try to catch attack suspect dead or alive

Local authorities increase death toll to three, including 13 wounded and five in serious condition

BCHL’ers blanked by Russia at World Junior A Challenge

Canada West loses battle of the unbeaten teams in the preliminary round

Most Read