Fields Trial Day 4: Witnesses, Victims Testify
Jurors are hearing testimony from witnesses and victims connected to the deadly car attack that occurred after the Unite the Right rally in downtown Charlottesville last summer.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Jurors are hearing testimony from witnesses and victims connected to the deadly car attack that occurred after the Unite the Right rally in downtown Charlottesville last summer.
Fields is accused of murdering Heather Heyer and injuring dozens during a car attack on Fourth Street on August 12, 2017. Attorneys for the 21-year-old Ohio man do not dispute that Fields was behind the wheel when a Dodge Challenger struck people marching after the controversial and violent rally: Attorney John Hill said that the defense wants the jury to ask themselves if Fields' actions were malicious or not, and if it was done out of self-protection.
The commonwealth says this case is about Fields’ intent: Judge Richard Moore will be allowing posts from the defendant’s Instagram account, which includes a May 2017 entry described as pictures of a car driving into protesters.
“The commonwealth has to show an intent, has to show premeditation, and this would tend to show that three months ahead of time he was at least thinking about the notion that a car could be a weapon against liberal protesters,” legal analyst Lloyd Snook explained.
Testimony began Thursday afternoon with Michael Webster, who described seeing counter protesters waving flags and chanting "Whose streets? Our streets" while marching along Water Street. The witness said he and his girlfriend saw a Dodge Challenger slowly driving on Fourth Street, but then it came to a stop: The car couldn't go further down the street, because of the counter protesters, but there was nothing blocking it from reversing back up to Market Street. Webster told the court the car backed up, but then his girlfriend saw it speed forward into the crowd. After the impact, Webster said he and others helped people off the streets as the car drove backwards through the crowd again.
Marcus Martin of Nelson County was next called to the witness stand. He said he and his girlfriend - now wife - had joined in the marching on Water St. Martin pushed her out of the way, but was himself struck by the Dodge Challenger.
Brennan Gilmore began testifying after the court took an hour-long break. He told the jury that he was taking part in the counter protests, as well as documenting the day's events. Gilmore was already recording the crowd at Water St. and Fourth St. with his cellphone when he said he heard the sound of a car bottoming out. He continued to record after evading the car, saying that he tried to get the license plate number.
Gilmore’s video was shared with the jury.
The defense asked Gilmore if he saw bottles being thrown and fights breaking out during the rally. He said he did, but could not confirm if it was from both sides.
During opening statements, the defense claimed Fields was being given a hard time by counter protesters during the rally. Fields had brought a home-made shield, and was seen participating in support of Jason Kessler’s event with members of Vanguard America. Later, Hill said Fields' confusion over traffic flow led him to drive down Fourth Street. According to the defense, Fields saw someone with a handgun after hitting the crowd.
The fourth person to be called by prosecutors, Brian Henderson, described how he was badly injured by Fields’ car.
Henderson said he saw a car speeding toward him on Fourth St. He tried jumping out of the way, but was struck at the hip. As a result, the witness says he suffered from four broken ribs, missing toenails, and a severely-damaged arm. Henderson told jurors that he still has limitations to the use of his left arm.
A person identified as “Lisa Q.” - last named is being omitted for safety reasons – was next called to the witness stand. She told the court that she had met up with other counter protesters following the Unite the Right rally, and eventually ended up in the Water St. area.
Lisa said she began to hear screaming, but couldn't see anything. Lisa said she did not feel the initial impact, but was hit by a Dodge Challenger, and sent onto the roof of an adjacent car.
The sixth person called to the stand was Aubtin Huidsri, who was also a counter protester to the rally. Huidari said he suffered from concussion-like symptoms for weeks after the car attack. He recalls screaming, not being able to walk, then being in an ambulance, and waking up in a hospital.
Fields drove away from the scene. The Dodge Challenger was located and stopped a short time later by Charlottesville police, who took Fields into custody.
The commonwealth’s last witness of the day was Stephen Simalchik, who said he did not intend to participate in any protests on either side and attended the Unite the Right rally as a witness.
Simalchik recorded a group of individuals carrying shields and flags, chanting as they approached Fellini's restaurant on Market Street that day. He decided to re-watch that footage during the one-year anniversary of August 12th; that's when he said he recognized one the men in that shield-carrying group as James Alex Fields, Jr.
The defense asked Simalchik to describe the mood of the area at the time, and interactions between groups of protesters. The witness said he could not remember those details, but described the entrance to the park – then known as Emancipation Park - as a bottleneck.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Joseph Platania raised an objection to the relevance of the interactions and mood during the moments after the rally. Judge Moore denied Platania's objection.
Court adjourned for the day a little before 6 p.m., and is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Friday, November 30.
The trial, which officially got underway Monday, November 26, is scheduled for a total of 18 days.