The life and death of Heather Heyer was the main focus in Charlottesville Circuit Court on Monday, as experts discussed her injuries and friends shared memories during the trial of the man charged in her killing.
Monday began the second week of James Alex Fields Jr.’s trial, which is scheduled to last three weeks. Fields faces a raft of charges, including first-degree murder in Heyer’s death in a car-ramming that came after the Aug. 12, 2017, Unite the Right white nationalist rally broke up.
The testimony was a mixture of firsthand accounts of Fields’ vehicle ramming into a crowd of counter-protesters and medical experts detailing Heyer’s injuries.
One of the first witnesses called was Marissa Blair Martin, whose now-husband Marcus Martin testified last week. She was in downtown Charlottesville with Martin, Heyer and another friend on the day of the rally.
She described the crowd before the car incident as “happy people” and said she initially had a hard time distinguishing between the police and the militia members who were at the rally. Marcus Martin suffered a broken leg in the incident, shortly after pushing Blair Martin out of the car’s path.
Heyer, 32, and Blair Martin had been both coworkers and friends — something of a rarity, Martin said. When asked to describe her friend, Martin said Heyer was passionate, easy to be around and compassionate.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard to describe someone you love.”
In the afternoon, Dr. Jennifer Bowers, an assistant chief medical examiner for the Western District of Virginia, told the court that Heyer died of injuries consistent with blunt-force trauma to the chest. Heyer suffered a severed aorta, punctured lungs, a broken femur and lacerations, Bowers said.
The autopsy also included a toxicology report, which is standard. The report showed Heyer tested positive for cannabanoids, which Bowers said had nothing to with her death.
When Charlottesville Fire Capt. Steward “Nick” Barrell reached Heyer, she had a large bruise on her chest, a leg wound and what he described as “multi-systems trauma.” Barrell said he assisted with chest compressions on Heyer.
Barrell arrived at the scene at Fourth and Water streets with his fire engine, and said he could see a “hole” in the crowd, where he said he estimated there were “around 30 people.” He said he was told by a bystander that CPR was being performed on someone, who he said was Heyer.
He described Heyer’s initial coloring as “salvageable patient color,” and assisted with chest compressions.
With her injuries, Barrell testified, Heyer stood a zero percent chance of survival outside of a hospital.
Kristin Van Itallie, a forensic scientist at the Department of Forensic Science in Richmond, testified that blood and flesh found on the windshield of the Dodge Challenger driven by Fields belonged to Heyer. That Fields was driving the vehicle is not in dispute.
Using blood found on Heyer’s belt buckle, Van Itallie was able to create a DNA profile and matched it with other DNA profiles she created using blood evidence from Fields’ vehicle. She said the chance that the DNA profiles do not belong to Heyer is 1 in 7.2 billion.
Alexis Morris and Thomas Baker both spoke about the injuries they sustained in the incident, which they said were life-altering.
Morris recalled hearing what she thought was a large explosion when she was struck.
“When I came to, my leg was broken and I could not find my daughter,” she said. Her leg now has permanent rods and pins in it.
Baker was hit directly by the vehicle and launched into the air. He sustained injuries to his head, one of his wrists and his right hip. He said the hip injury has permanently altered his quality of life, preventing him from being able to be as active as he was before. As someone who prided himself on his athletic abilities, he said the injury has been difficult for him.
The day’s proceedings ended just before 3 p.m. Judge Richard E. Moore said the prosecution expects to rest its case by lunch recess Tuesday.
Daily Progress staff writer Allison Wrabel contributed to this story.