A juror clasped his hand over his mouth in court on Thursday as prosecutors played a video showing a young neo-Nazi sympathizer plowing his car into a group of anti-racist protestors after last year’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
As the video played, the defendant, James Alex Fields Jr., showed no sign of emotion.
After three days of jury selection, the biggest criminal case to stem from the deadly white nationalist rally began in Charlottesville Circuit Court with opening statements and the first witness testimony.
The 21-year-old Maumee, Ohio, man is on trial for first-degree murder, accused of intentionally driving his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counterprotesters following the Aug. 12, 2017 rally.
Here are five noteworthy moments from the trial so far:
1. The Instagram posts
Prosecutors alleged Fields made two posts on Instagram showing a picture of a car running into a crowd labeled “progressives.” The posts on May 12, 2017 and May 17, 2017 — some three months before the rally — are expected to be shown to the jury later in the trial, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Nina Antony said. Antony’s opening statement marked the first time news of the Instagram posts had been made public.
2. There’s no dispute Fields was behind the wheel
The prosecution and defense agreed that Fields drove his car into the crowd of counterprotesters and that 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer died that day.
Defense lawyers focused on the chaos of the day. Prosecutors zeroed in on the calmer mood in the afternoon just before the collision. “This is not about what he did,” Antony said. “It’s about what his intent was when he did it.”
3. Witness videotaped Fields marching with neo-Nazis
Fields rallied with the neo-Nazi group Vanguard America during “Unite the Right.” Stephen Simochek, a Charlottesville resident who videotaped parts of the rally, caught Fields on tape marching out of what is now Market Street Park with Vanguard America holding a shield from the group. Simochek said he didn’t realize Fields was on his video for a full year until he watched it on the first anniversary of “Unite the Right.” “It looked a lot like the person, James Fields,” Simochek told jurors Thursday.
4. Jurors are shown a video of the collision
Prosecutors played video of Fields’ car hitting the group of counterprotesters. Screams, screeching tires and obscenities could be heard as bodies, clothes and water bottles flew through the air. One juror kept his hand over his mouth through much of the brief video. Fields, dressed for court in a dark blue sweater and open collared shirt, showed no visible signs of emotion as the video played.
5. Defense says fields was in a ‘uniform’ that day
Fields drove the seven-plus hours from Ohio to Virginia to attend “Unite the Right.” His attorney noted that Fields only brought one change of clothes – a white polo shirt and khaki pants. That outfit matched the uniform worn by Vanguard America, a group that quickly disavowed Fields after his arrest. Defense attorney John Hill addressed the outfit with jurors in opening statements: “It was the uniform of the day.”