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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

‘Pods’ set up at Surrey homeless centre

Temporary shelter set up in April to help stop the spread of COVID-19

Suspect sought in alleged indecent act in South Surrey

Police say incident occurred near 13 Avenue and 131 Street

New video evidence in Surrey man’s West Kelowna murder trial shown in court

The defence closed its case following the playing of the video in court, marking the end of the evidentiary phase of the trial

IHIT investigating ‘suspicious’ death of Surrey man

Officers found a body in the 11300-block of Bridgeview Drive: Surrey RCMP

Surrey student earns TD Community Leadership scholarship

Harjot Bal recognized for his One Blood For Life Foundation

‘I’m pissed, I’m outraged’: Federal minister calls out police violence against Indigenous people

Indigenous Minister Marc Miller spoke on recent incidents, including fatal shooting of a B.C. woman

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

We’re asking you to lock arms with us, as we look to better days ahead

Kelowna Mountie who punched suspect identified, condemned by sister

‘How did he get away with this? How is this justifiable?’

PHOTOS: Anti-racism protesters gather in communities across B.C.

More protests are expected through the weekend

Pair accused of ‘horrific’ assault at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park at large

Police say Jason Tapp, 30, and Nicole Edwards, 33, did not show up to meet their bail supervisor this week

IHIT names homicide victim found in the Fraser Canyon this week

Police asking for tips into the suspicious death of 29-year-old Alicia Berg

No charges to be laid against 22 northern B.C. pipeline protesters

Twenty-two people were arrested in February, but Crown has decided not to pursue charges

Plan in place for BC Ferries to start increasing service levels

Ferry corporation reaches temporary service level agreement with province

Most Read