Fields Trial Day 1: Jury Selection Begins
Trial for an Ohio man accused of plowing a car through a group of counter demonstrators is now underway in Charlottesville Circuit Court. James A. Fields, Jr. is charged with first-degree murder.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The jury-selection process in the trial for an Ohio man charged with murder is moving slowly.
Roughly 360 people have been called to be potential jurors in the James Alex Fields, Junior trial. The 21-year-old briefly appeared in Charlottesville Circuit Court on Monday, November 26, before being taken behind closed doors.
Judge Richard Moore announced Monday morning that the defendant is now facing a total of five counts of aggravated malicious wounding. Each of these charges can carry a sentence of up to life in prison.
Fields is also charged with first-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, and failing to stop at an accident involving a death. Prosecutors - Commonwealth’s Attorney Joseph Platania and Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina-Alice Antony - say Fields was behind the wheel of a Dodge Challenger used in the deadly car attack following the Unite the Right rally on August 12, 2017. Heather Heyer was fatally struck, while 28 other people suffered injuries.
Fields’ court counselors are John Hill and former Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Denise Lunsford. He has previously stated in court that he is receiving treatment for bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, and ADHD.
The lawyers and Judge Moore have spent the day asking groups of 28 people questions to gauge their knowledge of the case and opinions. They're asking basic qualification questions, such as if the person is a city resident, as well as if anyone in the jury pool has any personal connection to witnesses in the case.
"That's why they're asking questions, for example, ‘did you go to the scene where the car crash occurred to lay flowers?’ That would suggest an emotional commitment to the issue that would probably be hard to set aside. That’s the kind of thing they’re asking, trying to get to 16 people who are willing to consider both sides," legal analyst Lloyd Snook said.
Hill told a group of prospective jurors on Monday that the court will hear evidence that Fields "thought he was acting in self-defense."
“My guess is, what that tells us is that one of the things that is going to come up at the trial is James Fields was scared and he reacted out of fear. Now, that's not going to be a perfect self-defense case," said Snook.
The commonwealth is expected to argue that Fields acted with premeditation: Video shows a Dodge Challenger stopping roughly a block away from those marching in the area of Fourth and Water streets, reversing, but then going forward into them.
The jury-selection process is expected to continue throughout Tuesday, Nov. 27, and could go into Wednesday, Nov. 28.
The goal is to seat a total of 12 jurors and four alternates. Judge Moore described the number of alternates as “unusual” but necessary in this case. Jury trials tend to have two alternates.
Fields' trial in Charlottesville Circuit Court is scheduled to last a total of 18 days. He also faces dozens of federal charges for the same incident.
The first day of jury selection wrapped up after 6 p.m., and some people were asked to come back to continue the process on Tuesday.