By Katie Larr, staff writer
The jury began deliberating on Friday to decide the fate of a Virginia man accused of killing an anti-racist protester in Charlottesville a year ago after a white nationalist rally.
A decision could come as early as Friday afternoon.
James Alex Fields Jr. faces charges that include second-degree murder, aggravated malicious wounding and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death.
Prosecutors say Fields, 20, plowed his car into a crowd of people protesting a group of white nationalists who gathered in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017. Heather Heyer, 32, a paralegal and civil rights activist, was killed. Hundreds of people were injured.
Fields’ attorney, Denise Lunsford, said in closing arguments Thursday that the charge of second-degree murder could be “inaccurate” because people weren’t directly in the path of the car. Fields was acting in self-defense against a “tidal wave” of people, she said.
“There was a lot of chaos, and you can’t stand there and try to shoot your way out of a problem,” Lunsford said.
Lunsford acknowledged Fields did leave his car and run over people but that it was because he was beaten up and feared for his life. Lunsford asked jurors to convict Fields of a lesser charge such as voluntary manslaughter, arguing it would be more fitting with the way Fields acted in fear and in self-defense.
Lunsford spent much of her closing argument trying to move the jury beyond a charge of second-degree murder to a lesser one such as involuntary manslaughter, arguing at this stage of the trial the crimes should be “considered as whether James Fields acted with premeditation.”
“James Fields is asking you to consider this evidence in a vacuum, without the context in which it was done,” Lunsford said.
The defense attorney tried to shift the focus from Fields and onto the actions of other white nationalists. She argued that the death of Heyer should not be compared to his actions because Heyer was a demonstrator.
Earlier in the trial, prosecutors emphasized how the accused driver plowed into a crowd of people after deliberately driving around police barricades. They described him as a “cold-blooded” killer who intentionally drove into a crowd of people.
Last week, a federal jury convicted Fields of a hate crime related to the racist flyers he left behind before his attack. But the same jury couldn’t reach a verdict on the murder charge after the jury decided Fields acted under the color of law.
The day after the fatal car attack, Fields was photographed with a shield bearing the emblem of Vanguard America, one of the hate groups that took part in the Unite the Right rally.
In closing arguments, federal prosecutor Nina-Alice Antony reminded the jury of the photo of Fields and the white nationalist group members.
“This is about who James Fields was prior to August 12, 2017,” Antony said. “This is about who he has been since.”