Man charged with 1st-degree murder in attack that killed woman at Charlottesville rally

James Alex Fields Jr. ( Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail)

James Alex Fields, the man accused of plowing his car into a crowd of counter-protesters at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last August, now faces a first-degree murder charge.

During a probable cause hearing in Charlottesville Circuit Court Thursday, prosecutors announced a motion to upgrade from a charge of second-degree murder.

Judge Robert Downer, Jr. later certified the first-degree murder, malicious wounding, and assault charges against Fields, a 20-year-old from Ohio.

Former teachers say Fields was fascinated with Adolf Hitler and Nazism.

Published reports say Fields was photographed hours before white supremacists and counter-protesters clashed, wearing the emblem of 'Vanguard America,' one of the hate groups that took part in the rally.

'Vanguard America' has denied any connection with Fields.

Wearing a black and white jumpsuit, his hands in cuffs, he sat quietly throughout the hearing.

But gasps and cries filled the courtroom when prosecutors played a video showing Fields' Dodge Charger plunge into a large group of people.

Thirty-two-year-old Heather Heyer was killed from the impact.

Charlottesville Police Detective Steven Young told the court 36 people were hurt, some with "significant injuries" and others who are "wheelchair bound."

Young says after Fields was taken into custody, he said he was sorry and asked, "Are they okay?"

Questioned by Fields' attorney Denise Lunsford, Young says the 20-year-old appeared shocked when police told him a person had died.

"Did he sob and cry?" Lunsford asked.

"Yes," Young answered.

Prosecutors also showed surveillance video from a Virginia State Police helicopter.

The footage recorded the impact, and the shocked curses of the troopers on board.

The marathon hearings for Fields and three other men came during a sometimes tense day outside the courthouse.

Protesters shouted loudly at the four defendants' supporters as they entered the court building.

Several people chanted "blood on your hands," as Jason Kessler, the organizer of last August's white supremacist rally went inside.

Kessler also exchanged words with a television reporter, before officers quickly got between the two men.

The judge also certified charges against 52-year old Richard Preston, accused of firing a gun within 100 feet of a school building.

Two other men, 22-year-old Jacob Goodwin and 33-year-old Alex Ramos face assault charges, accused of attacking a man in a parking garage.

Video from both incidents was shown in court.

Prosecutors are expected to present their case against Fields to a grand jury on Monday.

This story has been updated.

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