Law enforcement outside courthouse

ZACK WAJSGRAS/THE DAILY PROGRESS Law enforcement stand outside of the Charlottesville Circuit Courthouse on Monday morning. The trial of James Alex Fields Jr., who is charged with running his car into a group of counter protesters on Aug. 12, 2017, began with the jury selection process.

For more information on the trial, please check out our ongoing coverage of the trial at our hub.


 2:45 p.m. update:

There are currently 24 qualified jurors, with 18 more called for questioning from the second pool of 80 jurors. Only four of those 18 are needed to have a total of 28 qualified jurors. 

The courtroom is back open after this morning's technical snafu, but officials are still conducting individual questions in the conference room that is not open to the public.

The rest of the jury pool was told to return at 4 p.m., in case they are needed.

Wednesday 11:30 a.m. update: 

Due to technical problems with recording equipment in the conference room, the main courtroom has been closed off to the public so counsel can individually question the 12 remaining potential jurors. The main courtroom is expected to open again at 1 p.m. and another pool of 80 potential jurors are also expected to arrive then.

Tuesday 11:30 a.m. update:

Four jurors have been confirmed by Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard Moore to sit on the first-degree murder trial of an Ohio man charged in the death of anti-racist protester on the Aug. 12, 2017.

The jurors will be among 16 who will listen to testimony in the case against James Alex Fields Jr. Fields is charged with intentionally driving his car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters, killing counter-protester Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring 35 others.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys interviewed 13 jurors this morning, with some questioning done behind closed doors. More of the nearly 70 jurors who were in court Monday for voir dire are returning for questioning this morning and another group of 70 to 80 jurors is expected in the afternoon, court officials said. Officials have arranged an estimated 240 potential jurors to be questioned, if needed.

Moore indicated that he hopes a jury will be picked and seated on Wednesday.

Fields’ defense attorneys continued to ask prospective jurors if they believe that violence is never an option in self-defense, which could indicate a possible strategy in defending Fields.

The trial is scheduled to last about three weeks.

 

3:30 p.m. update:

Judge Moore has allowed the majority of the jury pool another recess until 5 p.m., while counsel continues to individually question the remaining 28 potential jurors on the stand. The individual questions are being done in the jury chambers away from the public’s view.

Moore indicated that he expects counsel to be done with their individual questions by 5 p.m., at which point another group may be called to fill in for any dismissed jurors.

12:50 p.m. update:

Charlottesville Circuit Court officials have taken a break in jury selection in the murder trial of James Alex Fields Jr.

In a process that began at 9:30 a.m., 28 jurors were called to the stand to answer general and specific questions about their biases and knowledge of the events of Aug. 12, 2017, the Unite the Right rally and the fatal car attack in which Fields is charged.

A total of 16 will be selected from the pool, 12 sitting members and four alternates.

Only one potential juror has been dismissed so far — a woman who said she no longer resides in Charlottesville. Several other jurors expressed concerns about conflicts the three-week trial could cause for them.

Most potential jurors raised their hands when asked by Judge Richard E. Moore if they had a preexisting opinion about Fields’ guilt.

During the open questioning portion, defense attorney John Hill asked the potential jurors whether, in terms of self-defense, they believed violence was never necessary to protect themselves. None of the individuals indicated they felt violence was never necessary.

Just before noon, Moore dismissed the remaining jury pool for a two-hour lunch break while members of the 28-person pool were asked individual questions in private based on their earlier responses in open court.

Jury selection will resume at 2 p.m.

10 a.m. 

The day dawned wet, cold and quiet for the first day of James Alex Fields, Jr.’s first-degree murder trial as more than 100 potential jurors prepared to be questioned by prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Court officials expect to interview possible jurors for at least two days and possibly three with a jury pool of about 300 Charlottesville residents. They hope to select 13 residents by Wednesday to sit through an expected two weeks of testimony regarding the Aug. 12, 2017 Unite the Right rally’s deadly car attack.

Fields is charged with intentionally driving his car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters, killing counter-protester Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring 35 others.

Fields is charged with first degree murder in Heyer’s death; three counts of malicious wounding resulting in severe injury and permanent, significant physical impairment; five counts of malicious wounding and one count of failing to stop at the scene of an accident involving a death.

He faces minimum sentences of 20 years for each of malicious wounding with severe injury charges; a minimum of five years for each malicious wounding charge; up to a year for the failure to stop and to a life sentence on the murder charge.

Several citizens, including Star Peterson, who was injured in the car attack, also arrived to view the juror interviews, also known as voir dire.

Charlottesville city, court and police officials have prepared for likely deluge of news media from local, regional, national and international news and entertainment outlets.

They have set up a remote viewing location at the Levy Opera House for citizens and media who cannot get a seat in the court

Joe Rice, deputy communications director for Charlottesville, said the city is expecting “well over” 100 members of the media to be present for the three-week trial.

Officials have designated specific media gathering areas around the court house and camera locations as well as banning backpacks, bags and purses as well as cameras.

The normal court prohibitions on weapons, possible weapons and electronic devices, including cellphones, remain in place.

But few news crews were out Monday morning as court prepared to open in a drizzling rain and no protesters had arrived by noon as temperatures continued to drop.

While jurors began to arrive to check in, Charlottesville public works crews filled plastic barricades with water in front of the court house sidewalk and on the other side of the street.

Potential jurors filled out a questionnaire last month to cull those who have a bias in the case before today’s interviews.

In August, Fields’ attorney, Denise Lunsford, a former commonwealth’s attorney for Albemarle County who was assigned the case, filed a motion to move the trial, citing intensive publicity about the rally.

Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard E. Moore disagreed, saying believed an unbiased jury can be seated.

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