Lawyers for James Alex Fields, 21, the Ohio man charged with the first-degree murder of Heather Heyer and accused of plowing his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of demonstrators on Fourth Street August 12, 2017, suggested he may argue self defense in early questioning of potential jurors.
Fields, a self-described neo-Nazi, is also charged with five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of leaving the scene. He appeared in court unshaved and wearing a dark suit and tie.
The case—and the swarms of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in the streets of Charlottesville for the Unite the Right rally—made national news. Fields’ attorney, former commonwealth’s attorney Denise Lunsford, earlier had requested a change of venue. Judge Rick Moore took the motion under advisement, but seemed confident he could find 12 impartial jurors and four alternates.
Questionnaires went out to 360 potential jurors, the largest pool ever in Charlottesville, and by 10am November 26, around 60 were sitting in Charlottesville Circuit Court.
Jury selection got off to a slow start. Potential jurors were put in a group of 28 for the first round of questioning to determine juror bias. One was dismissed because she no longer lived in Charlottesville.
Nearly all of the 28 raised their hands when asked if they’d heard about the case through the media.
The prosecution said it planned to call 40 witnesses, including victims Marcus Martin and Marissa Blair, and former Daily Progress reporter Ryan Kelly, whose photo of the Fourth Street crash won a Pulitzer prize.
Lunsford listed around 15 possible witnesses, including Officer Tammy Shifflett, the school resource officer who left her position blocking Fourth Street at Market when she became fearful for her personal safety, and Fields’ mother, Samantha Bloom, who has called police in the past because she was frightened by her son’s behavior.
The trial is expected to last three weeks.