It’s in the jury’s hands now.
The prosecution and defense have given their closing arguments on the ninth day of James Alex Fields Jr.’s first-degree murder trial.
The man charged with killing Heather Heyer and injuring many others when he rammed his car into a crowd at an August 12, 2017, white supremacist rally also faces being convicted of five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, three counts of malicious wounding, and one count of hit and run.
Prosecutor Nina Antony encouraged the jury to find him guilty on all 10 counts, which would mean they believe he acted with malice, and that his actions that day were premeditated and intentional.
“It’s not about what Mr. Fields did, it’s about what his intent was when he did it,” said Antony during her closing.
Narrating for a final time what happened in videos that the jurors have likely memorized over the past two weeks, Antony said Fields turned onto Fourth Street, where two cars and a group of activists were in front of him, and where nothing but empty road was behind him. He briefly stopped his Dodge Challenger and then started reversing. He could have continued backing up to get off of Fourth Street if that’s what he truly desired, she said, but instead he stopped, idled, and then “something change[d] for him.” That’s when he raced his car forward into the crowd.
Months before, he had posted to Instagram an eerily similar image of a car plowing into a group of protesters.
“He seizes that opportunity to make his Instagram post a reality,” said Antony.
Though the defense’s witnesses testified that Fields was essentially calm, cool, and collected minutes before he sped into the group, Antony said it was in that moment of idling that his demeanor changed. She said he then showed the same “hatred” he previously displayed in text conversations with his mom, in which she asked him to be careful at the Unite the Right rally, and to which he replied with an image of Adolf Hitler accompanied by a message that said, “We’re not the [ones] who need to be careful.”
And though he was immediately apologetic to the police officers who took him into custody after two brief pursuits, Antony said he showed his true colors in two recorded jailhouse conversations between he and his mom months later, in which—among other things—he said, “it doesn’t fucking matter” that Heyer died, and called her mother, Susan Bro, a “communist” and “the enemy.”
This case is about more than differing political ideologies, however.
“It’s about those bodies that he left strewn on the ground,” Antony said. “It’s about Heather.”
In the defense’s closing arguments, attorney Denise Lunsford noted the “crowd mentality” of the protesters and counterprotesters attending the Unite the Right rally.
“A lot of people were behaving badly that day,” she said. “That’s just about as simple as you can put it.”
Though numerous witnesses described the band of activists that Fields sped into as happy, cheerful, and celebratory, Lunsford told the jury, “The difference between a joyful crowd and a hostile mob is in the eye of the beholder.”
She said Fields thought he was being attacked from behind when he plowed into them, which is what he told the magistrate after being taken to jail that day.
“We know there is no one behind him,” again countered Antony. Photos, videos, and witness testimony corroborate that, she said.
Lunsford asked the jury to put themselves in Fields’ shoes. He was 20 years old at the time, overwhelmed by all that happened that day, and as indicated by the directions he had just typed into his GPS, he was just trying to go home to Maumee, Ohio. He’d been spattered with urine earlier in the day and had exchanged choice words with people he calls “antifa.” And when, he alleged, a crowd of them started rushing his car, he thought he was in danger.
Fields didn’t stop at the scene of the crime because his glasses had been knocked onto his floorboard and he couldn’t see whether he’d injured anyone, according to Lunsford. Without his glasses, he also couldn’t see police chasing him, she added.
Antony noted that, even without his glasses, he backed up in a straight line, dodged cars, and efficiently made turns.
A photo taken of the front of the Challenger as Fields reverses away from the crowd he just ran over has been admitted into evidence. His face is visible. He stares intently.
“That is not the face of someone who is scared,” said Antony. “That is the face of anger, of hatred. That is the face of malice.”
Jurors will officially begin deliberating tomorrow at 9am.