James Alex Fields Jr. now faces a charge of first-degree murder in a car attack Aug. 12 that killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injured dozens of others.
At a preliminary hearing Thursday in Charlottesville General District Court, Judge Robert H. Downer Jr. certified all 10 charges against Fields — first-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, three counts of aggravated malicious wounding, two counts of felonious assault and hit and run — to a grand jury that is scheduled to meet Monday.
If indicted, his case will go to trial.
Shuffling into court wearing a loose-fitting gray-and-white striped jumpsuit, the 20-year-old Ohio man sat quietly next to his attorney, Denise Lunsford. Never saying a word, Fields often kept his eyes trained on the table in front of him, but occasionally looked up to watch the proceedings.
Three rows of benches in Charlottesville Circuit Court — where the hearing was held to accommodate the crowd — were filled with victims and their families. In the back of the courtroom, the seats were filled with other onlookers.
Two were charged in the beating of DeAndre Harris beating, and one was charged with firing a gun near a school.
Charlottesville Police Detective Steven Young has been investigating the car attack since he heard radio traffic on Aug. 12 alerting him to the violent event. That day, he was monitoring the failed Unite the Right rally from inside the police department. He raced to Monticello Avenue after he learned that a Charlottesville deputy stopped a smashed-up gray Dodge Challenger. The deputy arrested the driver — identified in court as Fields — and waited for police.
On the stand, Young told the court the Dodge had heavy front-end damage, holes in the rear window and was splattered with blood and flesh. In one of the photos presented by assistant prosecutor Nina Antony, a pair of blue sunglasses was stuck in the spoiler on the car’s trunk.
Walking the court back to the beginning of the attack, Young said a maroon van and a white sedan first drove down the Fourth Street crossing of the Downtown Mall toward Water Street but stopped when a large group of counter-protesters decided to walk up Fourth in the direction of Market Street.
A short time later, according to witness accounts and video footage, Young said a Dodge slowly drove down mall crossing and idled for a short time at the Downtown Mall before backing up.
Then the Dodge moved forward at high speed, colliding with the group.
It then backed up quickly — hitting more people in the process — before speeding off down Market Street with its front bumper scraping the road, Young said.
Antony also played video footage from the Virginia State Police helicopter that followed the Dodge after it was seen plowing through the crowd. The officers can be heard relaying the car’s route to units on the ground in an attempt to help them stop the car.
On the video, police radio traffic can be heard and as the car first hits the group of people, one officer said, “S***. Oh, crap. Did you see that?”
SWAT members were on nearby rooftops and near the courthouse, there was increased security at road blocks and enough officers were on scene to rotate from the courthouse basement to the front steps to give them a break from the cold.
As the camera follows the erratic path of the Dodge as it wends through downtown Charlottesville, one of the officers said, “Christ, I can’t believe he just did that.”
Prosecutors also showed surveillance video footage from one of the restau-rants near the Fourth Street intersection of the mall. As the Dodge is seen racing down the street towards the protesters, a few of the victims in the courtroom made loud noises of disgust and left.
When Young got to the car on Monticello Avenue, he found Fields sitting on the ground in handcuffs. As he approached him, Young said Fields kept repeating, “I’m sorry,” and asking if everyone was OK.
When Fields later learned of Heyer’s death, Young said he appeared to be in shock and began to cry.