Man charged in death at Charlottesville rally ‘thought he was acting in self-defense,’ attorney says
The trial of a man accused of killing Heather Heyer at a white nationalist rally in Virginia will include evidence that the defendant believed he acted in self-defense, his attorney told prospective jurors this week, according to CNN affiliate WVIR.
John Hill, an attorney for defendant James Fields, made the remarks in Charlottesville Circuit Court on Monday, the first day of jury selection in the case.
Fields, 21, of Maumee, Ohio, is accused of plowing his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counterprotesters during the August 2017 Unite the Right rally, killing Heyer and injuring several other people, police say.
Hill told prospective jurors that the court will hear evidence that Fields “thought he was acting in self-defense,” WVIR reported.
The defense team also have asked the jury candidates if they believe violence is justified when acting in self-defense, WVIR reported.
CNN’s attempts to reach Fields’ attorneys for comment weren’t immediately successful.
Jury selection is expected to take two or three days and the trial will follow.
Heyer, 32, was a local paralegal and had attended the rally to speak out against white supremacy and racism. Her friends and families say she died for her beliefs.
Fields stands charged with first-degree murder in Heyer’s death. He also faces five counts of malicious wounding, three counts of aggravated malicious wounding and one count of failing to stop at an accident involving a death.
Exclusive photographs obtained by CNN appear to show Fields marching alongside neo-Nazis and other white supremacists at the rally.
Clashes had erupted in Charlottesville on the morning of the gathering, forcing police to clear a park. The day was marred by pepper spray, screaming and fistfights, and before the rally could begin, police decided the protest constituted an unlawful assembly and Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared an emergency.
Fights continued to break out around the city. That afternoon, authorities say, Fields ran his car into the crowd.
Surveillance video showed a Dodge Challenger stopping about a block and a half away from the protesters, reversing, then driving into the crowd before speeding away in reverse.
Separately, Fields is charged with hate crimes in a 30-count federal indictment. Prosecutors in that case allege Fields espoused white supremacist ideals and denounced minorities on social media before traveling to Virginia for the rally. Once there, the indictment says, he drove his car into a crowd with the intention of hurting people he targeted based on his bigoted views.
Fields has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges. It’s unclear whether he has entered a plea to the state charges, though a trial would not likely be necessary if he had pleaded guilty.
Fields is being held without bail in the Albemarle/Charlottesville Regional Jail.