The first day of James Alex Fields Jr.’s first-degree murder trial dawned wet, cold and quiet Monday as dozens of Charlottesville residents called into court as potential jurors were questioned by prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Fields is charged with intentionally driving his car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring 35 others.
Charlottesville city, court and police officials have prepared for possible protests, which have surrounded previous hearings in the Fields case, and for an expected deluge of media from local, regional, national and international news and entertainment outlets.
Officials have set up a remote viewing location at the Levy Opera House for those who cannot get a seat in the court. The location will become operational once a jury is seated.
While jurors began to arrive to check in at Circuit Court, a half-dozen Charlottesville police officers assisted city sheriff’s deputies in providing security for the building, both inside and out.
Plastic barricades linked together in front of the courthouse sidewalk and on the other side of the street were filled with water by city crews.
Fourth Street Northeast has been closed to allow for parking of media trucks.
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.
But few news crews were out Monday as court prepared to open in a drizzling rain and no protesters gathered as temperatures continued to drop throughout the day.
Officials have designated specific media gathering areas around the courthouse and camera locations. Backpacks, bags, purses and cameras are among the items banned from the courthouse.
The normal court prohibitions on weapons, possible weapons and electronic devices, including cellphones, remain in place.