Update: Grand Jury Indicts 4 Men on Charges Connected to Aug. 12 Violence
A Charlottesville grand jury has indicted several men that were arrested following the Unite the Right rally.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Update 12/20/2017
Monday, December 18, a grand jury indicted:
- James Alex Fields Jr. on all of his charges, including first-degree murder from the car attack that killed Heather Heyer. His next court hearing is scheduled for January 3, 2018.
- Alex Michael Ramos and Jacob Scott Goodwin on the charge of malicious wounding. Daniel Patrick Borden is charged with felonious assault. Their charges stem from the attack on DeAndre Harris in the Market Street Parking Garage. Two-day jury trials are scheduled to get underway April 26 for Borden, April 30 for Goodwin, and May 2 for Ramos
- Richard Wilson Preston on the one count of discharging a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school. His three-day jury trial is set to begin May 9.
A Charlottesville General District Court judge is certifying all the charges against four men accused of violent acts from August 12.
Judge Robert Downer presided over several preliminary hearings in Charlottesville Circuit Court Thursday, December 14. The General District Court cases had been moved to the larger Circuit Court due to safety concerns.
The final defendant that went before the judge was Fields. The 20-year-old Ohio man was facing second-degree murder and nine other charges in connection to an apparent car attack in the area of the Downtown Mall.
Prosecutors are now charging Fields with first-degree murder in connection with the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
Fields was seen taking part in Jason Kessler's Unite the Right rally at Emancipation Park with Vanguard America, a known racist, right-wing group. Authorities said Fields was arrested about a half mile up the road, still driving the Dodge Challenger involved in the deadly incident.
Fields maintained he feared for his life at the Downtown Mall crossing, and hit the accelerator in panic. Authorities said a total of 36 people were injured, including Heyer.
Downer certified all of the charges against Fields after 5:30 p.m.
Fifty-two-year-old Preston was the first hearing to be taken up. The Maryland man is a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and is accused of firing a gun during the clashes between Unite the Right supporters and protesters. The American Civil Liberties Union says it caught the incident on video.
Preston was arrested on August 26 in Towson, Maryland. He told the Baltimore Sun he came to Charlottesville as a member of a militia intending to protect rally participants.
Judge Downer certified a charge of discharging a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school around 3 p.m.
The same grand jury will also hear the cases against 34-year-old Ramos and 23-year-old Goodwin, both of whom are charged with malicious wounding. The judge certified those charges after 4 p.m.
Downer said the standard to advance the case is probable cause, and that there is no doubt they were acting to harm Harris.
Ramos was arrested in Georgia on August 28, and was extradited to Virginia in September. Meanwhile, Goodwin was arrested in his home state of Arkansas and extradited back in November. A judge has already certified Borden's charge to the grand jury, which is also scheduled for Monday.
Harris was facing a charge of felony unlawful wounding, but now prosecutors have filed a motion to lower that to misdemeanor assault and battery.
Barriers were set up around Charlottesville Circuit Court earlier, and many law enforcement officers were on hand. Police had expected large crowds in the courtroom, as well as out in the cold.
The city closed a portion of East High Street and Hedge Street to traffic for most of Thursday. Authorities also limited what people could bring into the courtroom.
A few people could be seen outside of court before the preliminary hearings, including community activists, members of Congregate Charlottesville and other religious groups, and rally organizer Jason Kessler. Some outside expressed outrage with anyone who would support the “alt-right.”
“It’s important for us to be here to continue to say white supremacy is evil, white supremacy is a sin, and we will continue to live out lives in a way to call that out," said Brittany Caine-Conley with Congregate Charlottesville.
Protesters chanted "blood on your heads" and yelled obscenities at Jason Kessler as he made his way inside the courthouse.
Things began to calm down afterwards, and the crowd size grew smaller, but not everyone dispersed.
"I feel like we should have had this resolved and the fact that we haven't is why I'm taking a stand to push back against it, because I think when people don't stand up is when it becomes a problem," said Matthew Christensen.
"We are concerned about security and the welfare of this part of town, because we only live a few blocks away," Bruce Dembling said.
Most people hung around simply because they were worried Charlottesville could see violence again if Unite the Right supporters showed up. A few of those supporters did, but nothing came of it.