By Gary Robertson
Charlottesville, Va. (Reuters) – A white nationalist who drove his car into a crowd protesting a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, killing one of the counterdemonstrators, was found guilty on Friday of first-degree murder and nine other counts.
The jury deliberated for about seven hours before convicting James Fields, 21, of all charges stemming from the deadly attack that occurred after police had declared an unlawful assembly and cleared a city park of white supremacists gathered for the “Unite the Right” rally.
Fields, who did not take the witness stand to defend himself, faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. The 12 members of the mostly white jury – seven women and five men – were to return to court on Monday for the start of the penalty phase of the trial.
Defense attorneys never disputed that Fields was behind the wheel of the Dodge Charger that sent bodies flying when it crashed into a crowd on Aug. 12, 2017, killing counterprotester Heather Heyer, 32 and injuring 19 others.
Instead, Fields’ lawyers suggested he felt intimidated by a hostile crowd and acted to protect himself.
Prosecutors said Field was motivated by hatred and had come to the rally to harm others.
The car-ramming incident capped a day of tensions and physical clashes between hundreds of white nationalists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis who had assembled in Charlottesville to protest plans to remove statues of two Confederate generals, and groups of opposing demonstrators.
The night before, the “Unite the Right” protesters had staged a torchlit march through the nearby University of Virginia campus, chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans.
Republican U.S. President Donald Trump was strongly condemned by fellow Republicans as well as Democrats for saying afterward that “both sides” were to blame for the violence.
Fields was photographed hours before last year’s attack carrying a shield with the emblem of a far-right hate group, and people who knew him in high school have said he expressed Nazi sympathies as a student.
Fields also faces separate federal hate crime charges, which carry a potential death sentence. He has pleaded not guilty in that case as well.
(Reporting by Gary Robertson in Charlottesville, Va.; Writing by Peter Szekely and Steve Gorman, additional writing by Rich McKay; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)