Kessler perjury trial will remain in Albemarle

Jason Kessler stops for a moment to blame local media for prejudicing the jury pool with its coverage of him. Staff photo Jason Kessler stops for a moment to blame local media for prejudicing the jury pool with its coverage of him. Staff photo

Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler was in Albemarle Circuit Court today with a one-inch-thick motion to move his March 20 perjury trial out of this area, claiming the dozens of news stories included in the motion “demonized” him and made it impossible to get a fair trial here.

His attorney, Mike Hallahan, argued that a January 4 Daily Progress article “basically calls Jason Kessler a liar.” The story about the motion recounted Kessler’s sworn statement to a magistrate that Jay Taylor had punched him on the Downtown Mall as he collected signatures last winter to remove Wes Bellamy from City Council.

The charge against Taylor was dismissed with prejudice after Charlottesville Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina Antony said video disproved Kessler’s claim. The sworn statement Kessler made is the basis for the perjury charge. He pleaded guilty to slugging Taylor.

“The bias continues and continues,” said Hallahan.

However, Judge Cheryl Higgins said the article appeared accurate, and when it said Kessler had been “demonized,” it was quoting from the motion. “I don’t find this inflammatory,” she said.

The motion also said the Unite the Right rally drew “many undesirables from the far right,” called former police chief Al Thomas “a mere puppet of City Council,” and blamed police for the death of Heather Heyer by a “white supremacist.”

Kessler went on to criticize Heyer in the motion: “Charlottesville City Council named a street after her even though she was engaged in unlawful assembly, blocking a roadway and jaywalking, while the Charlottesville City Council ignored the two Virginia State Troopers that died within the same hour.”

Hallahan continued to insist “the media coverage is over the top.” And he saw a further threat: “sleeper activists” slipping on to the jury “because they hate [Kessler] so much.”

Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci pointed out that the Progress article Hallahan put into evidence is factually accurate. 

“The court would be hard pressed to find any jurisdiction in the commonwealth not aware of the events of August 11 and August 12,” said Tracci,

Hallahan disagreed about the significance of August 12. “This is a local issue,” he said. “I don’t think [other localities] care about it. They don’t think about it everyday or care about it.”

Despite the publicity here, Higgins said to expect jurors to be completely ignorant of a case to remain impartial “would establish an impossible standard.” Should Kessler be unable to find impartial jurors, she took the motion under advisement, which gives her the option to move the trial if necessary.

Outside the courthouse, Kessler said told reporters they had “already prejudiced a jury pool.” He added, “This media here locally is a fucking joke.”

Hallahan seemed less bitter when asked if his client could get a fair trial. “I hope so,” he said.

Correction: Robert Tracci said the January 4 Daily Progress story was accurate, and was not speaking of all media accounts as originally reported.