Five things to know from the second day of testimony in the 'Unite the Right' murder trial
Blood, crushed bones and hunks of flesh. The grim and gory toll of last year’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia was in the spotlight on Friday in the second day of testimony in the murder trial of a young neo-Nazi sympathizer.
Multiple witnesses shared intense personal stories of their injuries and the lingering impact on their lives after 21-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of couterprotesters following the racist Aug. 12, 2017 rally. A detective also detailed the gruesome evidence found on Fields’ Dodge Challenger — including the DNA of 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer, who died in what prosecutors allege was a murderous attack.
Fields has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and other charges, although his defense team has already acknowledged that he was behind the wheel of the car that plowed into the crowd.
Friday’s proceedings in Charlottesville Circuit Court followed a day of initial testimony and opening arguments, in which prosecutors revealed Fields had also posted images on Instagram depicting a car being driven into a crowd of people months before the rally.
Here are five key moments from the trial on Friday:
1. Life-changing injuries
Multiple witnesses described being hit by Fields’ car shortly after 1:40 p.m. near the corner of 4th and Water streets in downtown Charlottesville.
“I got hung up on the trunk of the car,” said Wednesday Bowie, who went to Charlottesville to protest against “Unite the Right.” “I recall thinking, ‘OK, I’m getting hit by a car. This is happening’.”
After sliding off Fields’ car, Bowie hit a truck parked nearby, breaking her pelvis in six places. Her femoral artery was severed, requiring emergency surgery. Her orbital bone near her right eye was fractured, as was her tailbone.
Bowie said she still walks uneasily with an uneven gait, 16 months after being hit.
Jeanne Peterson, who entered the courtroom in a wheelchair then walked to the witness stand with the help of a cane and deputy, described how Fields ran over her.
She took the jury through a series of x-rays detailing her shattered leg.
“A lot of crushed bones,” Peterson said. “They threw out anything that actually came out of my skin because of infection.”
Peterson said she has had five surgeries so far with a sixth set for next year.
2. A DNA match
Charlottesville police Detective Jeremy Carper told jurors that five reddish-brown stains containing DNA from 32-year-old Heather Heyer were found on the 2010 Dodge Challenger Fields drove that day, as well as human flesh clinging to the car’s windshield.
The passenger side mirror, grill and bumper also fell off the car after it struck the crowd of counterprotesters before police finally stopped Fields a little more than a mile away from the scene.
3. Observing for the future
Along with witnesses and survivors of the rally-turned-riot, federal prosecutors and FBI agents watched testimony from the gallery of the Charlottesville Circuit Courtroom.
Also in the room was Lisa Lorish, an assistant federal public defender who is set to represent Fields at a yet-to-be scheduled federal hate crimes trial.
Federal prosecutors have not announced if they will seek a death sentence on federal hate crime charges for Fields if he’s convicted on the state charges.
4. Tracking Fields
Charlottesville Police Cpl. Steve Young told jurors Friday that Fields appeared in several videos shot the day of the “Unite the Right” rally. Early that day, a camera found Fields standing alone in the downtown area, later with a group dressed like he was – white polo shirt and khakis – marching into what was then known as “Emancipation Park,” and later seen marching out of the park carrying a shield. The group was later identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the neo-Nazi hate group Vanguard America.
A Virginia State Police helicopter tracked Fields’ movements as he approached the crowd of counterprotesters and then fled the scene after hitting them with his car.
Young also testified that police later used Fields’ Facebook account, receipts and cellphone to retrace his movements from Maumee, Ohio, to and around Charlottesville.
5. Wrapping up
Prosecutors are expected to rest their case by the end of the day Tuesday.
“We’re 97 percent on schedule,” Judge Richard Moore told jurors Friday evening.
Young is expected to return to the stand Monday or Tuesday to testify about comments Fields made after being arrested, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Nina Antony told jurors during her opening statement and Moore ordered Young to be prepared to return to the witness stand this week.