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)

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

Almost every health region in the province saw an increase in overdose calls last year. (Blackpress files)
Overdose call numbers reach five-year-high in Maple Ridge.

BC Emergency Health Services responded to almost 500 local calls in 2020

Cam Blake released his first album called <em>Bad Vacation</em> on Jan. 15. (Special to The News)
Maple Ridge musician releases first album

Cam Blake’s first album, Bad Vacation, released Jan. 15

Members of the Maple Ridge Disc Golf Club team up to update the “frolf” course at Thornhill Park. (Special to The News)
Maple Ridge Disc Golf Club helps upgrade local course

Thornhill Park frisbee links usage has skyrocketed since pandemic

Cody Malawsky at the box lacrosse provincials in 2019. As the highly skilled player adds size he will dominate junior, predicts longtime coach Daren Fridge. (Tim McCormick/Special to The News)
Ridge Meadows Hospice Society volunteer Jill Constable. (Ridge Meadows Hospice Society/Special to The News)
Ridge Meadows Hospice celebrating 25 years

Celebratory White Dove Dinner raising money for support and grief programs

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

The Elk Valley Hospital is adapting to meet the needs of patients in the Elk Valley.
1-in-5 COVID tests coming back positive in and around Fernie, sparking concern

Dr Ron Clark of Elk Valley Hospital said one in five tests was returning positive for COVID-19

Throughout December, RCMP conducted CounterAttack road checks as police worked to keep roads free of impaired drivers. (BLACK PRESS file photo)
‘You can’t make this stuff up’: Stories from the B.C. CounterAttack campaign

Amusing, yes, but a reminder impaired driving affects ability to drive and to make good decisions

Snow is forecasted to appear in parts of Metro Vancouver this weekend. (Black Press Media files)
Snow forecasted for parts of Lower Mainland this weekend

Environment Canada is predicting flurries and snow from Saturday to Monday evening

Most Read