James Alex Fields Jr, the man responsible for using his vehicle as a weapon in Charlottesville, Virginia during a white nationalist rally, has been found guilty of murder in the first degree. The rally was held in August of 2017, where Fields drove into a group of protesters, which resulted in the death of Heather Heyer, 32, and injured multiple others. Heyer was an activist for civil rights, as well as a paralegal.
It was asserted in the trial that Fields identified with white supremacist views, and violence and hatred were his motivation behind the attack. He had been at the Unite the Right rally to support opposition to the removal of a General Robert E. Lee statue in a local park. Counter-protesters were also present and marching through the streets of Charlottesville. Upon seeing a large group of them, video and eye-witness accounts show that Fields stopped and backed up his vehicle, then proceeded to drive directly into the crowd.
Fields and his attorneys maintained throughout the court case that Fields was acting in self-defense. Fields’ claim was that he feared being attacked by the crowd of people, which was growing and closing in on him. The jury did not accept this defense, even after seeing interrogation video in which Fields breaks down emotionally upon finding out about the death and injuries caused.
Fields was characterized during the trial as a white supremacist. They asserted this has gone on since he was younger, offering testimony from a former teacher who remembers Fields’ interest in Hitler and Nazism. Also, the groups that Fields was showing solidarity for at the rally, included neo-Nazis, KKK members, and multiple white nationalist groups. Many of the protesters had come wearing battle attire.
The rally itself, and events that occurred, caused major tension across the country. These were heightened when President Trump laid blame on both sides for the conflicts that ensued at the rally.
When the jury returned after their seven-hour deliberation, they handed down the guilty verdict for first-degree murder, as well as eight more charges that include hit and run and aggravated, malicious wounding. He will now also face charges for federal hate crimes. The murder charge, and the other eight charges, are enough to garner from 20 years to life in federal prison. The jury will return Monday to hand down the sentence for his crimes. If he is found guilty for the subsequent hate crimes, he could face death by lethal injection or, if requested by Fields, electrocution.
Though Fields maintained self-defense in court, two phone calls made by Fields to his mother were recorded while he was in jail. In one he tells her that he was threatened “by a violent group of terrorists.” Though in the second recorded call, he references the slain woman’s mother and called her a communist and anti-white supremacist. No information is available as to whether the jury was given any recommendations for sentencing.