The planned three-week trial of James Alex Fields Jr. is running well ahead of schedule. That’s why it was so jarring that proceedings ground to a halt with a two-hour delay December 5 because of a concern about jurors. When court finally was in session around 11am, Judge Rick Moore said some unnamed person said something the day before in the presence of a juror.
He polled the jurors and reported back that no one did anything wrong and it was not going to affect the trial, but at the lunch break, he asked the jurors to not dine alone. Moore had already warned that anyone approaching or photographing a juror would be answering to him.
In the courtroom, the commonwealth has four rows reserved on the right side of the room that usually have been filled with several dozen victims and supporters of those injured August 12, including Heather Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, on the first row.
The defense has three rows reserved on the left side of the gallery that have been mostly empty throughout the trial, except for lawyers who will be defending Fields in his federal trial facing 30 hate crime charges.
Today his mother, Samantha Bloom, was present. She had been listed as a defense witness and had not been in the courtroom earlier, but now sat within feet of her son as testimony winds down in his trial for the murder of Heyer, five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, three malicious wounding and one count of felony hit and run.
Defense witnesses Hayden Calhoun and Sara Bolstad testified they’d come from Richmond August 12 to attend the Unite the Right rally because they were interested in the speakers. After the rally was declared an unlawful assembly, they walked to McIntire Park, where they met Fields. They described his demeanor as “calm,” “tired,” and “normal.”
They walked with Fields back from McIntire Park and said some counterprotesters yelled at them from across the street, but the exchange was purely verbal.
Virginia State Police Trooper Clifford Thomas, a crash reconstruction expert, testified that he’d calculated the rate of speed of Fields’ Dodge Challenger hurtling down Fourth Street using airbag control modules in the Challenger and in the Toyota Camry that was slammed from the rear. Thomas also used video from the state police helicopter to estimate that Fields was going 28mph on Fourth Street after he crossed the mall.
When the Challenger hit the stopped Camry, the Toyota went from zero to 17mph in 150 milliseconds, said Thomas.
Lead Detective Steve Young with Charlottesville Police had extracted data from Field’s cellphone. He testified that on Fields’ calendar, he had noted community college orientation for August 15, three days after the Unite the Right rally.
The defense admitted Fields’ driver’s license and prescription glasses into evidence. The defendant was not wearing glasses today, and it’s unclear if he has a spare pair.
At that point around noon, the judge and attorneys disappeared again for around 20 minutes. Upon their return, Judge Moore said there had been an evidentiary motion, which he’d ruled upon, and then admonished those in the gallery to not react to testimony. “Whether you agree or disagree, the jury needs to make its own decision,” he said.
He also said he would be enforcing a rule already in place: that people cannot leave or enter the courtroom during testimony. “It’s just a distraction,” he said, adding that the attorneys had requested the edict.
Yet another hour delay stalled proceedings after lunch because a witness had technology issues, said Moore, who also pointed out the courtroom was about 10 degrees warmer than usual. One juror fanned himself with a piece of paper.
In other cellphone evidence, digital forensic expert Philip DePue testified that the last directions searched on Fields’ phone were to Virginia Healthcare Center at 12:57pm August 12, and to his home, Maumee, Ohio, at 1:39pm. That would be three minutes before he drove into the crowd on Fourth Street.
Two sets of directions generated for Maumee placed Fields on East Market Street. The second set put him at Fourth Street NE and instructed him to turn left on Market and right on Ninth Street.
Asked Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina Antony, “None of these routes directed Mr. Fields to go down Fourth Street to Water?”
“No,” replied DePue.
Court adjourned around 4pm. Two witnesses are scheduled to testify Thursday morning, including Dwayne Dixon, the UNC professor with Redneck Revolt who allegedly waved a gun at Fields before he turned onto Fourth Street.
Moore said the defense will rest before lunch, and closing arguments will take place in the afternoon. “We’re still ahead of schedule,” he assured.