Fields Trial Day 5: Victims, Investigators Testify
The second day of testimony in a weeks-long murder trial is giving jurors more insight from those directly affected by the deadly car attack in downtown Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The second day of testimony in a weeks-long murder trial offered jurors more insight from investigators and those directly affected by the deadly car attack in downtown Charlottesville on August 12, 2017.
Testimony Friday, November 30, began with Charlottesville Police Detective Jeremy Carper. He was one of the officers who responded to the scene at Monticello Avenue on Aug. 12th, where James Alex Fields, Junior was taken into police custody. The 21-year-old is charged with first-degree murder, five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, three counts of malicious wounding, and one count of failing to stop at an accident involving a death.
Fields' attorneys acknowledge during opening statements Thursday that their client was behind the wheel of the Dodge Challenger that drove into a crowd of counterprotesters on Fourth Street, but are likely to argue he acted in self-defense. That car attack injured dozens, and killed Heather Heyer.
Much of the commonwealth's case rests on Fields' intent: they have to prove to the jury of nine women and seven men that the defendant acted with premeditation.
Friday, the commonwealth presented photos of Fields' damaged Dodge Challenger to the jury, noting that it was missing a side mirror. According to evidence, Virginia State Police recovered a side mirror on Fourth St. that is similar to the make of Fields' car. That mirror had a reddish, brown stain described as potential blood.
Detective Carper explained to the jury the process for swabbing evidence, as well as going over photographs from the scenes - both from Monticello Ave. and Fourth St. Most of those images focused on red stains along Fourth St. and adjacent cars.
“First of all, the [Charlottesville Police Department Forensic Unit] is extremely detailed, extremely careful about collecting that kind of stuff in large part because Charlottesville juries expect it. They want to see that kind of forensic evidence. So they want to see it, but more importantly it also shows just how thoroughly the case is getting investigated,” legal analyst Lloyd Snook said.
The court also heard from Charlottesville Police Detective Steven Young, the lead investigator in the Fourth St. crash. Young said police began obtaining search warrants for Fields' car and phone after the fatal incident. Through the investigation, it was determined that Fields was driving the Dodge Challenger that drove into the crowd. Authorities also looked at his social media to pinpoint his location throughout the day.
The detective said investigators determined through footage that Fields was standing with people in helmets who were dressed similarly to him. Fields also took part in chanting "Jews will not replace us" with that group.
Det. Young reviewed video evidence from a Virginia State Police helicopter to the jury. Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina-Alice Antony asked Young to identify Fields' Dodge Challenger in that footage. She asked Young if the video makes it clear that Fields did not stop after hitting the crowd at Fourth St. and Water St. The detective said yes.
Later in the footage, the Dodge Challenger was pulled over on Monticello Avenue, and an individual was brought out of the car by police. Young identified that individual as the defendant, James Alex Fields, Jr.
Young also mentioned surveillance footage from Red Pump Kitchen, which is located at a corner of the Downtown Mall's pedestrian crossing for Fourth St., proved helpful in the investigation.
Jurors heard the first-hand accounts of the drivers who had stopped on Fourth Street for the marchers: Lizete Short had gotten out of the minivan she was driving to take video of counterprotesters as they approached Fourth St. She was struck by the minivan, ending up on the hood and hit her head on the windshield. The witness said she only remembers being helped off street and asking, "Where are my kids?"
Tadrint "Tay" Washington was driving the car behind Short. While stopped, Washington said she saw a car behind her start backing up. Still in her car, Washington heard someone in the crowd say, "thank you for your patience."
While tearing up, Washington described hearing a loud noise then noticing someone on top of her car. The Dodge Challenger had slammed into her car, which pushed Washington into some of the counterprotesters, as well as into the minivan.
Washington and her sister, Micah, have filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against those they believe are responsible for the deadly car attack: Fields, Unite the Right rally organizer Jason Eric Kessler, and dozens of others.
During cross examination, the defense separately asked both Short and Washington if there were barriers blocking then from driving down Market Street. Short said she doesn't remember, and that there was not enough space to turn right on Water Street between the crowds.
Counterprotesters Star Peterson and Wednesday Bowie walked the court through how they each ended up on Fourth Street, and the lasting physical damage they sustained because of the crash: While on the ground, Peterson said she saw the eyes of Heather Heyer and thought, "those are the eyes of someone who is dead." Bowie had ran over to help people hit by the Dodge Challenger, but was injured when the car reversed.
Since the crash, Peterson has had five surgeries on her leg, with another surgery scheduled next year. She told the court that she regularly uses a wheelchair.
Bowie suffered a torn artery, internal bleeding, a broken tailbone, several lacerations, cracked vertebra, and her pelvis was broken in six places. She told the jury that she cannot sit or walk for long periods of time without experiencing pain. Her walking gait is also permanently affected, which causes pain.
Ryan Kelly, a former Daily Progress reporter, took the witness stand Friday. He took pictures of the counterprotesters as they marched along Water Street. Kelly said he saw the Dodge Challenger on Fourth St. slowly back up toward Market Street, then he heard the rev of an engine while he was taking pictures of the crowd. He turned to see the car speed past him.
Kelly began taking rapid pictures of the Dodge Challenger as it approached the crowd, made impact, and reversed back up to Market Street.
During cross examination, Kelly was asked if he saw brake lights on the Challenger as it approached the crowd. During the commonwealth's redirect, each photo was shown in sequence and Kelly did not see any break lights or damage to the car until it began backing up.
Officials have released court documents on two Instagram posts from Fields [PDF] back in May 2017: One is a public post, while the other is listed as a private message. Both show an image of a car driving through a crowd with different messaging referencing protests. These images are expected to be used by the commonwealth during trial.
*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that blood collected from the windshield of the Dodge Challenger matched DNA swabs collected from Heather Heyer. That sample has not yet been confirmed.