Murder trial of man accused in deadly Charlottesville attack goes to the jury
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — A witness told jurors Thursday that James Alex Fields Jr. appeared calm and "maybe a little bit scared" before he plowed his car into a group of counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally, a crash that killed one woman and injured many other people.
Joshua Matthews was with Fields shortly before the deadly encounter, which came after police forced an end to the event following violent clashes between the two sides. Matthews was the final witness called by defense lawyers as they attempted to convince the jury that Fields was afraid for his life when he drove his Dodge Challenger into the counterprotesters on Aug. 12, 2017.
Fields is charged with first-degree murder and other counts.
Both prosecutors and defense attorneys wrapped up their cases Thursday. Closing arguments were expected late that afternoon. Fields did not testify in his own defense.
The confrontations came after hundreds of white nationalists gathered for a "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Prosecutors say Fields was angry when he aimed his car directly at the counterprotesters and sped into the crowd. Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal and civil rights activist, was killed and dozens of other counterprotesters were injured.
Matthews said he met Fields in a Charlottesville park where white nationalists had gathered. After police declared an "unlawful assembly," Fields, Matthews and two other people decided to walk together "as it would probably be more safe," Matthews said.
He said while they were walking, a group of "antifas" — short for anti-fascists — yelled at them. He said Fields yelled something back, although he said he couldn't remember what Fields said.
The defense also called to the stand a left-wing defense group member who claimed in an earlier social media post that he had scared Fields away from a park where counterprotesters had gathered about an hour before Fields plowed his car into the crowd.
Dwayne Dixon testified that he saw a gray "muscle car" drive by several times. He said he yelled "Get the (expletive) out of here" at the car while wearing his gun slung over his shoulder. He testified that he could not see the driver because the car had tinted windows. Dixon has claimed previously that he used his gun to scare off a man he believes was Fields.
Dixon said he believes that was about 30 minutes to an hour before Fields slammed into the group with his car.
Prosecutors called a Charlottesville police detective as a rebuttal witness in an attempt to cast doubt on Dixon's account.
The detective said geolocation data from Fields' phone indicates his car was in the vicinity of the park only once, about four minutes before Fields struck counterprotesters in a different location.