Motivation of neo-Nazi probed as Charlottesville killer goes on trial – The Times of Israel

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia (AFP) — An American neo-Nazi was motivated by “anger” when he plowed his car into a group of counter-protesters at a white supremacist rally last year in Charlottesville, prosecutors said Thursday as survivors recounted harrowing testimony.

The trial comes 15 months after James Alex Fields Jr drove his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of activists in the Virginia city, killing 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer.

Fields, 21, from Ohio, is accused of first degree murder and faces hit-and-run charges and eight counts of causing serious injury. His lawyer said Thursday he had been ‘scared to death’ when he drove his car into the counter-protesters.

Hundreds had descended on Charlottesville on the day of Heyer’s death, August 12, 2017, either to march in or rail against a “Unite the Right Rally.”

Unrest quickly flared as riot police and national guard troops flooded the city’s downtown to contain clashes between white far-right supporters and counter-protesters that led to a state of emergency being called.

White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the “alt-right” clash with counter-protesters as they enter Lee Park during the “Unite the Right” rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

The violence capped two days of confrontations over the removal of a Confederate statue that shook the country, and became a symbol of the growing audacity of the far right under President Donald Trump.

Prosecutor Nina Antony told the jury that a mountain of photographic and video evidence would show Fields’s actions were pre-meditated and not motivated by a desire to protect himself, as the defense would argue.

FILE – This undated file photo provided by the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail shows James Alex Fields Jr., accused of plowing a car into a crowd of people protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va (Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail via AP, File)

These included two images, she revealed, that were posted by Fields to Instagram in May 2017.

“And in both those images you’ll see a group being struck, described as protesters,” she said.

“On August 12, James Alex Fields Jr was here in Charlottesville with anger and images of violence fixed in his mind. The case is about his decision to act on that anger and those images.”

‘Bodies going everywhere’

Heyer’s mother Susan Bro was present in the front row of the court, where opening arguments and testimony was heard after three full days of jury selection involving hundreds of prospective jurors.

A few feet away, Fields watched the proceedings attentively, wearing glasses, a blue sweater and a light blue shirt.

In this courtroom sketch, James Alex Fields Jr., second from left, appears along with his attorneys, as Judge Richard E. Moore, top right, reads charges during jury selection in the trial of Fields in Charlottesville General District Court in Charlottesville, Virginia, November 26, 2018. (Izabel Zermani via AP)

The court heard from witnesses including Marcus Martin, the subject of a Pulitzer-prize winning photograph that became synonymous with the incident, in which he is seen launched into the air after being struck by the car.

In this August 12, 2017, file photo, people fly into the air as a vehicle is driven into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress via AP, File)

Martin told the court he had decided to attend the rally with his fiancee Marissa Blair, whom he has since married, another friend and Heyer, who worked with Blair at a law firm.

“She was a great person,” he said of Heyer, visibly overcome with emotion.

Martin recalled looking down at his phone when Fields began his charge on the group.

“The only thing I was thinking about is getting my wife out of the way,” he said.

“I pushed her and that’s when I got hit.” The impact shattered Martin’s left leg and broke his ankle, forcing him to wear a medical boot for eight months.

Flowers surround a photo of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who was killed when a car plowed into a crowd of people protesting against the white supremacist Unite the Right rally, August 13, 2017. in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

Another witness, Brendan Gilmore, said he had gone with a group of friends to join the counter-protest and began filming on his phone when he saw the rampage unfolding.

“I heard a sickening sound and saw bodies going everywhere,” he said.

“I wasn’t sure at the time if I pressed record or not. I didn’t know until later that I had caught it all on video,” he added.

State of Mind

Earlier, both the prosecution and defense had agreed that the basic facts of the case were not disputed, but that Fields’s intent was the key issue.

“This is not a whodunnit case. This is not where we need to figure (out) who was in that car,” said defense attorney John Hill.

The lawyer painted a picture of chaos as the opposing sides, some of whom were armed with guns, fought pitched battles.

A vehicle reverses after driving into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017. (Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress via AP)

After Fields was detained, he expressed remorse and told police he “feared for his safety and that he was scared to death,” Hill said.

Antony, the prosecutor, disputed the characterization.

Shortly before Fields drove his gray car into the crowd, she said, he came to a “full and complete stop a distance from the group” and began revving his engine while watching the counter-protesters.

“There was no one around the car. There was no one behind the car,” Antony told the jury.

While others were able to jump clear or hit glancingly, Heyer was “directly in the defendant’s path, unable to get out of the way.

“The defendant (was) able to get away with her blood and her flesh still on his vehicle.”