Opening arguments began today for James Alex Fields, Jr.’s trial, Yahoo is reporting. Fields has been accused of ramming his car into a group of protesters in Charlottesville last year, killing one woman named Heather Heyer. A rally, which was dubbed the “Unite the Right” rally, was being held by hundreds of white nationalists, who were protesting the take-down of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. A group of counter-protesters formed in opposition to the white supremacists. The opposing viewpoints resulted in chaos, with physical fighting and the use of smoke bombs and chemical spray.
The mayhem came to a head when Fields drove his car into a group of the counter-protesters, allegedly targeting them. Not only did this kill Heyer, but it also injured 19 other people, including Star Peterson, who had to have five surgeries on her leg and now has to use a wheelchair and cane. On Thursday, November 29, Fields’ attorney argued in Charlottesville Circuit Court that Fields was acting in self-defense due to the amount of people surrounding his car.
“You will hear James tell officers he feared for his safety,” said attorney John Hill. “He was scared to death.”
Prosecutor Nina-Alice Antony, however, told the jury that Fields committed “willful, premeditated murder.”
According to Business Insider, potential jurors were questioned before officially being placed on the jury. Jurors were asked if they believed that violence in self-defense was never appropriate. They were also asked if they had heard about the case, and almost all of them did. This is not surprising, as the rally stirred up an ongoing discussion on racial issues.
President Donald Trump caused controversy when he condemned people on “many sides” as well as stated that he believed there were “very fine people on both sides.” Many people took this as Trump condoning the viewpoints of white nationalists. Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, reportedly refused to return phone calls from the White House following Trump’s scandalous comments.
The jury ended up being made of nine women and seven men, one of which is African-American. Four alternates have also been selected for the jury, which is expected to last three weeks. In addition to his murder charge, Fields is also being charged with a hate crime, which he has reportedly pleaded not guilty to. Fields was pictured the day of the incident carrying a shield that displayed the emblem of an alt-right hate group, although the group now denies that Fields was a member.