Updated at 6:46 p.m.
James Alex Fields Jr. was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder at 6 and had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital twice by the time he was 10, according to a forensic psychology expert.
Fields on Friday was found guilty of first-degree murder, eight wounding charges and one count of hit and run in the Aug. 12, 2017, car attack that killed Heather Heyer and injured 35 others. He faces the possibility of multiple life sentences.
Despite his early diagnosis and a history of angry and violent outbursts, said psychologist Daniel Murrie of the University of Virginia, Fields did not meet the legal standard to be declared insane at the time he rammed his car into a group of anti-racist protesters after the Unite the Right rally had been declared an unlawful assembly.
“In order to meet the legal definition of insanity, the individual has to not understand the nature of what they’re doing,” Murrie said in Charlottesville Circuit Court. “Though it’s ultimately a legal question, I do not think Mr. Fields meets the requirements.”
Murrie testified Monday afternoon just before the jury retired to deliberate on a sentencing recommendation.
Wearing one of two sweaters he has alternated between during the course of the trial and with a new haircut resembling the one popularized by white supremacist Richard Spencer, Fields watched the testimony with a flat expression.
According to Murrie, Fields has shown non-typical behaviors his whole life and was medicated shortly after he was first diagnosed as bipolar.
The disparity between the “explosive” angry outbursts of Fields’ childhood and his “flat,” emotionless demeanor led several mental health experts to diagnose him as having bipolar disorder, Murrie said.
Fields had few friends, and most of his social interactions were with his mother, which led to him being diagnosed as having schizoid personality disorder, according to testimony. The disorder is characterized by isolation and limited social interactions.
Fields quit taking his medications against his doctors’ advice when he learned that the drugs would prevent him from joining the military. Ultimately, physical limitations and disillusionment with the armed forces kept him out of the military.
By Aug. 12, 2017, Fields had been off his medication for two years, Murrie said.
In court earlier Monday, Susan Bro, Heyer’s mother, read a victim impact statement to the jury.
Fighting back tears, she said her daughter’s death had been “like an explosion” in her family. Since Heyer’s death, Bro said she has taken up her daughter’s cause.
“Heather was full of love, justice and fairness. Mr. Fields tried to silence her,” she said. “I refuse to allow that.”
Bro’s testimony was joined by that of three survivors of the attack, including Star Peterson, who suffered lasting and extensive leg injuries.
Peterson said she has been unable to work since the car attack and has had five surgeries to deal with infections caused by the metal plates in her legs. She will have a sixth surgery in the spring.
Following the attack, Lisa Q spent months in and out of hospitals and receiving physical therapy. She detailed her injuries and the physical and emotional scarring she endured.
She said she had kept a positive attitude in the hospital, but had horrible nightmares following the attack, waking up screaming and terrified she would be killed.
Wednesday Bowie, who was hit by Fields’ vehicle as he backed up after ramming the crowd, said despite Fields’ best efforts to kill the counter-protesters, he’d made the community stronger.
“Mr. Fields wanted to destroy us that day,” Bowie said. “We are, in his words, the enemy, just for standing up against racism that day.”
Following the testimony, the attorneys were given one last opportunity to speak to the jury.
Denise Lunsford, one of Fields’ attorneys, asked jurors to consider his mental illness as they decide on a sentence recommendation. Fields’ illness does not excuse his actions, Lunsford said, but sheds light on his frame of mind.
“Does it excuse what happened? Absolutely not,” she said. “But on Aug. 12 he was a compromised individual.”
Joe Platania, Charlottesville commonwealth’s attorney, urged the jury to look at the impact on the victims and the physical and emotional scars the attack inflicted.
“So much of today has focused on Mr. Fields,” Platania said. “Now is the point in the process when you get to go back and talk to the victims.”
Platania pointed to a phone call Fields made to his mother from prison in which he said Heyer’s death didn’t “f—ing matter.”
“Despite what Mr. Fields may think, her death did matter,” Platania said.
The jury will recommend a sentence this week, and a judge will formally sentence Fields in the coming months.
In addition to first-degree murder, which carries a sentencing guideline of 20 years to life in prison, Fields faces 20 years to life for each of the five aggravated malicious wounding convictions, five to 20 years for each of the three malicious wounding convictions and zero to 10 years for the hit and run conviction.
After nearly two hours of deliberations, jurors asked to end for the day around 5 p.m. They will resume at 10 a.m. Tuesday.