Attorney for James Fields Jr. Seeking Change of Venue for Charlottesville Trial
The attorney for James Alex Fields Jr., the Ohio man accused of a deadly car attack along the Downtown Mall, does not believe her client can get a fair trial from a Charlottesville jury.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The attorney for the Ohio man accused of a deadly car attack along the Downtown Mall does not believe her client can get a fair trial from a Charlottesville jury.
Denise Lunsford, a former commonwealth's attorney for Albemarle County, is representing James Alex Fields, Junior. She filed a motion for change of venue on August 14, requesting Fields' upcoming trial either be moved to another locality, or have jurors brought in from outside the Charlottesville area.
Fields is facing a first-degree murder charge in connection with the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
Heyer was taking part in a counter demonstration march in the area of 4th Street when she was fatally struck by a car on August 12, 2017. Twenty-eight other people also suffered injuries from what authorities believe was an intentional attack by Fields, who had taken part in Jason Eric Kessler’s Unite the Right rally earlier in the day.
Lunsford has provided thousands of pages from media articles about her client, saying in her motion, "... there has been voluminous and widespread publicity surrounding this matter."
In the motion Lunsford said community prejudice against Fields is pervasive: "Residents of the Charlottesville community have been profoundly affected by the events which occurred on August 12."
For all those reasons, the defense attorney argues that finding an impartial jury in Charlottesville will be difficult.
NBC29 Legal Analyst Lloyd Snook says social media could also play a role in any decision: "If they are able to gather all these different social-media postings, Twitter feeds and everything else, they could get thousands of different people on that list who have already expressed opinions or have already said something about the case," he explained.
Defense attorney Rhonda Quagliana is familiar with cases receiving major media attention, and has represented high-profile clients including convicted murderer George Huguely.
"It makes the defense attorney's job more difficult. In some ways it makes everybody's job more difficult," she said. "When you have a case like this where there's not only been a lot of pretrial publicity but also a case that has really impacted the community, as a defense attorney you have to worry about whether your client can really receive a fair trial."
Quagliana says Lunsford’s motion will likely be denied: "The community has a right to have cases of real significance and consequences tried in that community."
A pretrial motions hearing for Fields is scheduled for Thursday, August 30. A three-week jury trial is set to get underway on November 26.
Fields is also facing dozens of charges in federal court. He could receive the death penalty if he is convicted on the one count directly related to Heyer's death.