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Jason Kessler speaks at a press conference outside City Hall on Sunday, August 13, 2017.

A Charlottesville man previously convicted of misdemeanor assault and battery against Jason Kessler was again found guilty during an appeal trial Tuesday and given a $1 fine.

Jeffrey Winder — along with Phoebe Stevens, a Fishersville teacher, and Brandon Collins, of the Public Housing Association of Residents — was charged with assault and battery after Kessler was chased away from his press conference on Aug. 13, 2017.

Kessler stood in front of Charlottesville City Hall to blame the police for the violence that erupted the day before at his failed white supremacist Unite the Right rally, which culminated in the death of 32 year-old counter-protester Heather Heyer.

However, Kessler was soon mobbed by angry community members and fled the conference. Along the way, prosecutors said Winder could be seen on video punching Kessler.

Winder has never admitted to being the man seen in videos or photographs, but special prosecutor D. Michael Caudill, Goochland County commonwealth’s attorney, said the evidence was enough to convict him.

In February, Winder and Stevens were found guilty of assault and battery in Charlottesville General District Court. Both were sentenced to 30 days in jail, with all time suspended. Stevens also was ordered to complete 50 hours of community service.

Both later appealed their verdicts to Charlottesville Circuit Court.

Collins entered an Alford plea — in which he did not admit guilt but said the prosecution had enough evidence to convict him. He was sentenced to 10 days in jail, all suspended.

On Thursday, the defense and prosecution presented their arguments in the Winder case to a seven-person jury. The jury was shown photographs and videos from the conference and heard witness testimony.

The first witness, Kessler, said he did not know who hit him at the conference but, thanks to investigations from the Charlottesville Police Department, was now confident the man in the photographs was Winder.

Though he did not sustain any physical injuries during the event, Kessler said he did suffer lasting emotional trauma.

“I was attacked in front of the whole world, and then people made fun of me for it,” he said.

Henry Graff, a reporter for NBC29 who interviewed Winder after the incident, said he knew Winder through his part-time winery job. Later on Aug. 13, Graff interviewed Winder, who never admitted to his involvement in the scuffle.

On Thursday, Graff was shown photographs of Kessler’s attacker and asked if the man was Winder. Graff said he was not 100 percent sure if it was, as he had not seen the attack himself.

“There are many balding, middle-aged men in the city,” Graff said.

Caudill submitted new evidence in the form of photographs of Winder’s arm tattoos. In the video, the man can be seen with similar tattoos, said Caudill.

James Abrenio, Winder’s attorney, said over a year had elapsed between when the video at the press conference and the photographs of his client’s tattoos had been taken. It was conceivable that he could have gotten tattoos in that time, he said.

“A lot of things have changed and a lot of people get tattoos,” Abrenio said.

Ultimately, the jury found Winder guilty of assault and battery, and a couple of the jurors could be seen tearing up as their verdict was read.

According to sentencing guidelines, the jury could sentence Winder to up to 12 months of jail time and $2,500 in fines. They decided to give him a $1 fine with no jail time.

 

* * *

Prior to deliberations, the jury was asked to leave the room while Abrenio asked Kessler questions about the conference but not related to Winder.

Abrenio asked whether Kessler had considered if it was insensitive to hold his press conference in front of City Hall, given its proximity to Fourth Street, where Heyer had been killed.

Kessler said he had not considered the location because he had “been dealing with tragedy” on his side, as well.

He had called the press conference to talk about went wrong he said, describing why he hadn’t waited for a police escort.

“I told them when the conference was, and they should have been there,” Kessler said. “When I go anywhere, I always show up 15 minutes early.”

Though he has not filed a lawsuit yet, Kessler said he is planning to sue the city and police department for $117 million for “failing to protect him” at the press conference.

Though he claimed he’d since tried to distance himself from “certain elements” at the failed Aug. 12 rally, Kessler admitted he had reached out to James Fields Jr., the man charged with killing Heyer.

“I wanted to hear his side of the story,” Kessler said.

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Tyler Hammel is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7268, thammel@dailyprogress.com or @TylerHammelVA on Twitter.

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