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Charlottesville Jury Finds 'Unite The Right' Protester Guilty Of First Degree Murder


A jury in Charlottesville, Va., has found James Field Jr. guilty of first-degree murder. Fields is the self-proclaimed neo-Nazi who rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters last year at a white nationalist rally. He killed one woman, Heather Heyer, and injured others. Reporter Hawes Spencer of member station WCVE was in the courtroom today. Hawes, thanks for being here.

HAWES SPENCER, BYLINE: Mary Louise, thanks for having me.

KELLY: Talk me through the reaction when the - in the courtroom where you were when the verdict was read out.

SPENCER: Well, it was pretty interesting because James Alex Fields has not been reacting in this courthouse throughout the trial. And tonight was no different. As the guilty verdicts were read, he not only didn't show any emotion, he didn't even move. And really near the end of the 10 verdicts, he did cast a quick glance at his mother, who was in a wheelchair in the front row with her head bowed down. But Fields himself really registered zero emotion.

KELLY: And what about Heather Heyer's mother, Susan Bro? Was she in the courtroom today?

SPENCER: She was. And she remained stoic. And the people around her did exactly what the judge asked them to do, which was to stay quiet and not respond loudly. But there was a real - you could feel the sense of relief when the guilty verdicts were called out for all 10 charges.

KELLY: Remind us, just quickly, what happened during that weekend last year that led up to this trial.

SPENCER: Yeah. You know, Charlottesville had been in this state of uproar for a while. In early last year, the City Council had voted to remove one of our two Confederate general statues, the one of Robert E. Lee. And there was a lawsuit that was being waged to protest that decision. And then the rally came along. It was organized by a local activist who said that his purpose was to protest the removal of the statue.

But what ended up landing in Charlottesville that August 12 was a really wide swath of the underbelly of America. There were Nazi flags. I saw a man with a swastika tattooed on his chest. There were people carrying all kinds of what might be called fascist flags and other memorabilia. And that was the sort of tinder keg into which the spark was thrown where a larger number of anti-racist and anti-fascist counter-protesters appeared.

KELLY: Right. Right.

SPENCER: And things got violent.

KELLY: What happens next for Fields after this guilty verdict today?

SPENCER: Well, in Virginia, the jury determines the guilt. And then they reconvene, and they hear evidence about what punishment, if there is guilt, to levy. So that'll happen on Monday, if we don't get a snowstorm. The jury will hear things about Fields' past, maybe some of his medical and psychological information that we were sort of expecting to hear at trial but didn't come up. It'll probably come up at the sentencing phase.


SPENCER: And he - yeah, he faces up to life in prison on the murder charge. So the jury will decide what they want to recommend to the judge.

KELLY: And just briefly, he also still faces a federal trial on hate crimes. And that trial carries the possibility of the death penalty.

SPENCER: That's right. The government has not taken that off the table yet. So he still could face the death penalty in the array of federal hate crime charges.

KELLY: All right. Hawes Spencer, reporter with member station WCVE. Hawes, thanks very much.

SPENCER: Thanks, Mary Louise.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hawes Spencer

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