James Alex Fields, who in August 2017 drove a car into a crowd protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was convicted Friday of first-degree murder and nine other charges.
Fields, 21, was found guilty in the killing of Heather Heyer and faces a possible sentence of life in prison.
Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal, was demonstrating with dozens of others against the “Unite the Right” rally when Fields drove his car into the crowd after a day of tense clashes between members of alt-right groups and those opposed to their presence.
He was also found guilty of eight counts of malicious wounding and one count of failing to stop at an accident involving a death.
The verdict followed a week of testimony and more than seven hours of deliberations. Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, listened intently as the jury was polled about the verdict.
Al Bowie, who was injured in the attack, told reporters that she was ecstatic.
“I’m very happy with the verdict,” she said outside the courthouse. “This is the best I have been in a year and a half.”
Since Fields’ trial began last week, prosecutors and defense attorneys have focused on his intent. The commonwealth argued that Fields intended to harm the counterprotesters. The defense says he was in a state of panic and acted in self-defense.
The jury, comprising seven women and five men, is scheduled to be back in court Monday — weather permitting — for the beginning of the sentencing phase.
Pivotal moment for national discussions
The country watched in dismay on August 12, 2017 as right-wing demonstrators — including white supremacists and neo-Nazis upset in part over the the city of Charlottesville’s plan to remove a Confederate monument — and counterprotesters clashed.
After the rally Fields shockingly rammed his car into Heyer and others, and the nation reeled.
The violence in Virginia fanned national debates about race and free speech, and has resonated politically and socially since.
President Donald Trump became part of the conversation when on the day of the rally he denounced “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” but in that moment didn’t specifically mention the white supremacists who staged the event.
Anti-Trump and anti-racism rallies were held across the United States, including outside New York’s Trump Tower.
The controversy grew when Trump said there were some “very bad people” on both sides, but that some who came out to protest the removal of Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee statue were “fine people.”
Since the rally, descendants of prominent Confederate figures Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson said they want monuments of the men to be removed. The ones in Charlottesville are still there, thought the parks have been renamed.
In other parts of the country Confederate monuments have been taken down, some by protesters. The conversation about Confederate memorials continues.
Fields also faces 30 federal hate crimes charges. The next step in that case is a status conference on January 31.