Tag Archives: Charlottesville

An avowed supporter of neo-Nazi beliefs who took part in the violent and chaotic white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in this city last year was found guilty Friday of first-degree murder for killing a woman by ramming his car through a crowd of counterprotesters.

A jury of seven women and five men began deliberating Friday morning and took just over seven hours to reach its decision that James Alex Fields Jr., 21, of Maumee, Ohio, acted with premeditation when he backed up his 2010 Dodge Challenger and then roared it down a narrow downtown street crowded with counterprotesters, slamming into them and another car. Heather D. Heyer, 32, was killed and 35 others injured, many grievously.

The deadly attack in the early afternoon of August 12, 2017 culminated a dark 24 hours in this quiet college town. It was marked by a menacing torchlight march through the University of Virginia campus the night before, with participants shouting racist and anti-Semitic insults, and wild street battles on the morning of the planned rally between white supremacists and those opposing their ideology.

As the sounds and images of brutal beatings, bloodied faces and hate-filled chants spread across the country and around the world, this city quickly became identified with the emergence of a new order of white supremacy that no longer felt compelled to hide in the shadows or the safety of online anonymity.

Many in their emboldened ranks shouted fascist slogans, displayed Nazi swastikas and Confederate battle flags and extended their arms in Sieg Heil salutes. And many also wore red Make America Great Again hats, saying they were encouraged in the public display of their beliefs by President Trump, who later that week would say that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the demonstration.

Fields’s conviction followed six days of testimony in Charlottesville Circuit Court, where Heyer’s deadly injuries were detailed and survivors of the crash described the chaos and their own injuries. Jeanne Peterson, 38, who limped to the witness stand with the help of bailiffs, said she’d had five surgeries and would have another next year. Wednesday Bowie, a counterprotester in her 20s, said her pelvis was broken in six places. Marcus Martin described pushing his then-fiancee out of the Challenger’s path before he was struck.

Susan Bro, Heyer’s mother, sat near the front of the crowded courtroom every day watching the proceedings overseen by Judge Richard E. Moore. Fields’s mother, Samantha Bloom, sat in her wheelchair on the other side, an island in a sea of her son’s victims and their supporters.

[From wary observer to justice warrior: How Heather Heyer’s death gave her mom a voice]

For both prosecutors and Fields’s defense lawyers, the case was always about intent. Defense attorneys Denise Lunsford and John Hill did not deny Fields drove the car that killed Heyer and injured dozens. But they said it was not out of malice, rather out of fear for his own safety and confusion. They said he regretted his actions immediately, and pointed the jury to his repeated professions of sorrow shortly after his arrest and his uncontrollable sobbing when he learned of the injuries and death he had caused.

“He wasn’t angry, he was scared,” Lunsford told the jury in her closing argument.

Early in the trial the defense said there would be testimony from witnesses concerning Fields’s mental health, but those witnesses were never brought forward.

Prosecutors, though, said Fields was enraged when he drove more than 500 miles from his apartment in Ohio to take part in the rally — and later chose to act on that anger by ramming his two-door muscle car into the crowd. They described Fields “idling, watching” in his Challenger on Fourth Street and surveying a diverse and joyous crowd of marchers a block and a half away that was celebrating the cancellation of the planned rally.

They showed video and presented witnesses testifying that there was no one around Fields’s car when he slowly backed it up the street and then raced it forward down the hill into the unsuspecting crowd. In her final address to the jury Thursday, Senior-Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina-Alice Antony showed a close-up of Fields in his car to rebut the idea that he was frightened when he acted.

“This is not the face of someone who is scared,” Antony said. “This is the face of anger, of hatred. It’s the face of malice.”

Jurors were shown a now-deleted Instagram post that Fields shared three months before the crash. “You Have the Right to Protest, But I’m Late for Work,” read the post, accompanied by an image of a car running into a group of people.

As he looked down the crowded street Fields saw a chance, Antony told the jury, to “make his Instagram post a reality.”

Jurors also saw a text exchange shortly before the rally in which Fields told his mother he was planning to attend, and she told him to be careful. “We’re not the one who need to be careful,” Fields replied in a misspelled text message on Aug. 11, 2017. He included an attachment: a meme showing Adolf Hitler.

Lunsford dismissed the significance of the Hitler photo and Fields’s Instagram post and asked the jury to ignore how they felt about Field’s political views when deciding whether to convict him.

“You can’t do that based on the fact that he holds extreme right-wing views,” she said.

April Muñiz, 50, was on Fourth Street when Fields drove into the crowd. She escaped physical injury but is still traumatized by witnessing the violent act and seeing so many people she was celebrating with one moment suffer horrific injuries the next. Muñiz attended every day of the proceedings and said the trial helped her “pull the shattered pieces of that day together.”

The guilty verdict for Fields is not the end of his legal troubles. He still faces a federal trial on hate crimes that carries the possibility of the death penalty.

And the guilty verdict does not bring an end to this city’s misery. The legacy of that hate-filled weekend hangs over the city, a cloud that refuses to blow away. The physical and psychic injuries are slow to fade. The trial surfaced painful memories and emotions for many in this small city who were in the streets that day or have friends and acquaintances who were injured.

The city became the focal point for white supremacists when city council members voted to remove statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson from downtown parks. The statues were erected in the 1920s during the Jim Crow era. After the August violence, the council voted to sell both statues, but they remain in place for now under a court injunction. Confederate heritage supporters sued the city, saying that a Virginia law prohibits removal of the statues.

“A lot of people have worked hard for Aug. 12 not to feel like every day of our lives,” said Seth Wispelwey, a local minister who helped form Congregate Charlottesville, a faith-based group formed in advance of a Ku Klux Klan rally and the Unite the Right rally here last summer. “This trial acutely and minutely relived that weekend, so that has been very difficult for many folks.”

Though Fields’s trial has been the most extensively covered, there are more trials and lawsuits to come, including one against Jason Kessler, a city resident and one of the rally’s organizers. And the fate of the two Confederate statues — the original spark for the violence of 2017 — is scheduled to be decided in a court here in January

Paul Duggan contributed to this report.

Washington Post

Taylor Michael Wilson, a white supremacist associated with the National Socialist Movement, was charged under a terrorism-related statute.

A white supremacist who pleaded guilty to a terrorism charge for his armed takeover of an Amtrak train last year was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison on Friday.

Taylor Michael Wilson, 26, from the St. Louis region, said he “dropped acid” right before he took a gun into a secure area of an Amtrak train passing through a remote part of Nebraska, bringing the train to a halt. Wilson, who had a National Socialist Movement I.D. card on him, said shortly after the attack that he was “going to save the train from black people.”

Wilson had attended the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Authorities said they found a secret compartment behind his refrigerator stocked with a handmade shield he used in Charlottesville, a tactical vest, more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, and “white supremacy documents and paperwork.”

U.S. District Judge John Gerrard in Nebraska called Wilson a “gun-toting, angry, at times incoherent and other times uncooperative white supremacist” before sentencing him to to the prison term, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.

“You now have a choice to make,” Gerrard told Wilson, according to reporter Lori Pilger. “You can either renounce the white supremacist nonsense that you’ve been fed and go back to the way you were raised as a young man. Or you can coddle up to plenty of other white nationalists that you will find incarcerated.”

He added: “I hope that you will make the right choices. You’re certainly going to have time to think about it.”

Wilson told the judge that his actions were “stupid and immature,” but not terrorism.

“My actions that day had nothing to do with the ideologies I bought into. I never had the intention of hurting anyone. I did not have any hate or ill-will toward anyone on the train,” Wilson said, according to Pilger.

Because the United States lacks a federal statute that explicitly makes domestic terrorism a crime, it is relatively rare for the government to charge non-Muslims under terrorism laws. The reason the terrorism statute applied to Wilson’s crime was not that he was motivated by a particular ideology, but because attacks on trains are explicitly outlawed and labeled as terrorism.

Huff Post

Alex Ramos, charged with malicious wounding in the Aug. 12, 2017, parking garage beating of DeAndre Harris, has been sentenced to six years in prison.

The judge’s sentence was identical to the jury recommendations when Ramos, of Jackson, Georgia, was found guilty in May. He said it was appropriate, given the “evil” nature of Ramos’s actions.

At that trial, Charlottesville Police Detective Declan Hickey said he came across a Facebook post reportedly written by Ramos. The post reads, “We stomped some ass…getting some was f***ing fun.”

Hickey said Ramos seemed remorseful after his arrest.

Jacob S. Goodwin, one of the men on trial Thursday for the Aug. 12, 2017, garage beating of DeAndre Harris, will serve eight years in prison for malicious wounding.

On May 1, the jury had recommended 10 years in prison for Goodwin with the option of some suspended time, a $20,000 fine and empathy training.

A judge on Thursday largely agreed. Goodwin, from Arkansas, was sentenced to 10 years in prison with two years suspended, as well as a $5,000 fine and 20 years of good behavior, which includes no contact with Harris.

As the white supremacist Unite the Right rally fell apart, Harris was chased into the Market Street Parking Garage and beaten as he scrambled on the ground to get away. Hit with sticks, shields and fists, Harris was left with a laceration on his head that required staples to close, a broken wrist and multiple cuts and bruises.

Goodwin, Alex Ramos, Daniel Borden and Tyler Davis were charged with malicious wounding in the attack.

Ramos, Borden and Goodwin all have been found guilty of malicious wounding and will spend several years behind bars. Ramos was recommended a sentence of six years in prison (he is also being sentenced Thursday), while Borden entered an Alford plea — in which he did not admit guilt but said the prosecution had enough evidence to convict him — and faces up to 20 years when he is sentenced in October.

A trial for Davis, 50, who was arrested much later than the other three, has not yet been set. He is set to be arraigned Oct. 4, according to court records. Davis is currently free on bond but confined to his home in Florida.

Harris himself was arrested and charged with assault after video reportedly showed him striking a man with a flashlight outside of the garage where he was beaten.

At his trial in Charlottesville General District Court on March 16, Harris told the court that he thought the man — later identified as Harold Crews — was attacking his friend, Corey Long, with a flagpole. He said he thought he was protecting Long from an unprovoked attack.

Harris said he never tried to hit Crews, but rather was aiming for the flagpole to knock it aside.

Harris was found not guilty of misdemeanor assault.

Daily Progress

Daniel Borden enters an Alford plea to a malicious wounding charge stemming from the August 12 Market Street parking garage beatdown. Charlottesville police

Daniel Borden enters an Alford plea to a malicious wounding charge stemming from the August 12 Market Street parking garage beatdown. Charlottesville police

Another man charged with malicious wounding in the August 12 Market Street Parking Garage beatdown of DeAndre Harris has been convicted.

Daniel Borden, whose local TV station and newspaper have said he was known for his swastika drawings and Nazi salutes in high school, was 18 years old when he traveled from Maumee, Ohio, to Charlottesville for the Unite the Right rally.

He entered an Alford plea in Charlottesville Circuit Court on May 21, which isn’t an admission of guilt, but an acknowledgement that there’s enough evidence to convict him. Judge Rick Moore did, indeed, find him guilty.

“His argument is he didn’t have malice in his heart or mind when he did this,” said defense attorney Mike Hallahan. The felony charge carries up to 20 years in prison.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina-Alice Antony—who noted that Borden was wearing a white construction hat with “commie killer” written on it during the attack—said videos show the teenager beating Harris with a wooden object while Harris was already on the ground, which the judge agreed was enough evidence for the malicious wounding charge.

Hallahan previously argued that Borden wouldn’t be able to get a fair trial in Charlottesville, and said at a March 29 motions hearing that the city has shown an “absolute sheer bias” against rally participants by pursuing charges against them but not prosecuting people for jaywalking or blocking Fourth Street during the car attack in which a white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd of people, killing Heather Heyer and injuring many others. Fourth Street was supposed to have been closed during the rally.

After two two-day trials for assailants in the same case, juries convicted Jacob Goodwin, from Arkansas, and Alex Ramos, from Georgia, and recommended a sentence of 10 years and six years, respectively. The judge will formally sentence both men in August.

Borden, who told the judge he’s currently working on getting his GED, is scheduled to be sentenced October 1, exactly one month from his twentieth birthday.

A Charlottesville judge is handing down a guilty verdict in a case tied to violence during the Unite the Right rally last summer.

Richard Wilson Preston went before Judge Richard Moore in Charlottesville Circuit Court Tuesday, May 8. The 53-year-old Maryland man decided to not contest the single felonious charge of firing a weapon within 1,000 feet of a school.

The commonwealth said it would have presented evidence from an eyewitness during a three-day trial, which was scheduled to get underway Wednesday, May 9. The witness reportedly saw Preston raise his gun to take aim at Corey Long, a Culpeper County man accused of using a flame-throwing device on August 12, 2017.

Video footage from the ACLU of Virginia shows a man believed to be Preston firing a pistol during clashes between Unite the Right rally supporters and protesters near Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park.

Preston was arrested in Towson, Maryland on August 26, 2017. He reportedly has ties to the Ku Klux Klan.

A judge had previously set bond at $50,000 for Preston, but barred him from leaving the state or possessing a gun.

Preston is set to be sentenced Wednesday. He faces up to 10 years of jail time and a maximum fine of $100,000.


At 4 p.m., the jury found Alex Michael Ramos guilty of malicious wounding. At 5:30 p.m., it recommended a prison sentence of six years with no fine.

On Thursday, 33-year-old Ramos, of Jackson, Georgia, became the second person convicted in the bloody group beating of DeAndre Harris after the failed Unite the Right rally last summer. On Tuesday, 22-year-old Jacob Goodwin was found guilty of malicious wounding, and a jury recommended a sentence of 10 years with the option of suspending some of the time.

The attack in the Market Street Parking Garage left Harris with a gash in his head that required eight staples, a chipped tooth and a broken wrist.

Proceedings in Charlottesville Circuit Court moved quickly in the second day of testimony, and the prosecution called a medical expert and a detective to the stand to talk about the injuries Harris suffered on Aug. 12.

Evan Pryse, a nurse practitioner from Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital’s emergency department, said he examined Harris’ injuries after Harris took a decontamination shower to rid his body of any chemical irritants.

Pryse said he used eight staples to close the wound on Harris’ head and put his wrist in a splint after determining Harris had a broken ulna. Though Harris reportedly said he fell awkwardly on his wrist, Pryse said the injury was not consistent with a fall and looked more similar to a defensive-type “nightstick” wound. But Pryse said he did not have a definitive idea of how the break occurred.

While examining Harris for a concussion, Pryse said Harris seemed confused about questions and had a hard time understanding some of his injuries.

Charlottesville police Detective Declan Hickey described treating Harris right after he got out of the parking garage. Hickey, a former combat medic, said he kept trying to engage Harris to keep him from passing out. He said Harris seemed to be in shock and told him that he had been hit in the head several times.

The Monday following the rally, Hickey opened an investigation into the matter and said he identified Ramos as a suspect from a combination of confidential tips, social media tips and consultation with local law enforcement in Ramos’ home state of Georgia.

Walking the jury through videos of the assault, Hickey pointed out where the assault began and when Ramos jumped in at the end to land a punch on Harris’ head. Ramos’ hand appears to be wrapped in a blue plaid shirt, he said.

While looking through Facebook posts later, Hickey said he came across one that reportedly was written by Ramos. The post reads, “We stomped some ass…getting some was f***ing fun.”

Hickey said Ramos seemed remorseful after his arrest.

Through the testimony, Ramos, wearing a white dress shirt, sat quietly and occasionally took notes. He never reacted to any of the testimony or video clips.

Both sides rested their cases before 1 p.m. Ramos waived his right to take the stand, and his attorney, Jake Joyce, declined to present any evidence.

In her closing argument, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina Antony asked the jury to remember that Ramos inserted himself into the altercation. She said Harris already was lying on the ground and being hit by other people when Ramos decided to throw a punch.

“Instead of moving on, we saw Mr. Ramos sprinting in,” Antony said. “He catapults himself into the fray.”

Calling it “classic assault and battery,” Joyce said his client only threw one punch — unlike some of the others charged in the case who used weapons. With a “battle royal” happening in the garage, Joyce said, there were a lot of taunts and provocation thrown around.

Joyce said Harris did not deserve what happened to him. But he asked the jury to think about Ramos’ actions in comparison to the other actors in the assault.

“I’m not asking you to find him not guilty,” said Joyce. “He is guilty of assault and battery.”

Deliberations took 35 minutes.

Ramos will be sentenced formally on Aug. 23.
Daily Progress

After a little more than an hour of deliberations, a jury on Tuesday found Jacob S. Goodwin guilty of malicious wounding in the group beating of DeAndre Harris following the Unite the Right rally last summer.

Goodwin, 22, and his mother mouthed, “I love you,” to each other after the jury’s verdict was read to the court.

The jury recommended 10 years in prison with the option of some suspended time, a $20,000 fine and empathy training. A formal sentencing hearing was set for Aug. 23.

Before the jury left to deliberate a second time, Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania asked the jury to come back with a sentence that adequately addresses Goodwin’s behavior that day in the Market Street Parking Garage.

“They kick him, they hit him and they beat him while he’s on the ground,” said Platania. “It was an attack.”

“He has yet to express any regret for his actions that day,” he said. “And I would submit he has none.”

Goodwin’s attorney simply stated that his client was young, had no criminal history and made a mistake.

Starting where the case left off Monday, in his cross-examination of Harris on Tuesday, Woodard presented a different picture of the altercation that left Harris bloody and bruised. Woodard said the incident started after Harris hit Harold Crews with a heavy black flashlight. Harris said he never hit the man, but instead, aimed for the man’s flagpole.

Woodard said Harris then ran into the garage to “start a fight.” Again, Harris disagreed with the attorney’s version of events.

“No, I was trying to run away,” said Harris, who reiterated that he never intentionally ran at anyone.

Woodard then played a video of the events and Harris became visibly upset when the attorney said Harris was perfectly fine, while lying on the ground.

“Dude, I’m not perfectly fine,” Harris said. “I had just fallen down, bumped into someone and been maced.”

The prosecution also called Evan Pryse, a nurse practitioner, to the stand to speak to Harris’ injuries when he came into the Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital emergency department on Aug. 12. After Harris took a decontamination shower because he was covered in a chemical substance, Pryse said he examined Harris and immediately addressed the more severe injuries, which included a large gash on his head that required eight staples and a broken wrist.

Pryse said he suspected there was a possibility Harris had a concussion because Harris was slow to respond to questions. He also was concerned about a potential brain injury, but ultimately decided there was no need to do a CT scan, he said.

Harris reportedly told Pryse that he thought he hurt his arm when he fell on it, but Pryse said the location of the break did not seem consistent with a fall. Because only the ulna (the bone on the outside of the forearm) was broken and not the radius (the bone on the inside), Pryse said it did not look like a typical injury from a fall.

When Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina Antony suggested entering Harris’ entire medical record into evidence to give the jury the whole picture of his injuries, Woodard at first objected and said it would be “too much information” for the jurors. It was ultimately entered into evidence.

Charlottesville Sheriff James Brown and city police Detective Declan Hickey both testified that they found Harris right after the assault and attempted to render him aid. Hickey, a former combat medic, said Harris seemed confused and in shock.

The defense’s only witness was Goodwin himself, who said he was “terrified” and thought he would “perish” if he did not use self-defense.

Goodwin said he saw someone hit Crews with an object that looked like a weapon. Watching a commotion near the garage, Goodwin said he then saw someone come running at him.

“I believed I was being attacked,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin said he kicked at the man — identified later as Harris — several times to keep him away. When Goodwin kicked Harris’ backpack, he said Harris tripped and rolled toward Goodwin and began to get up again. Goodwin said he kicked Harris again because Harris “lunged at him” and “kept getting up.”

“I was terrified,” said Goodwin. “I had never been in a riot in all my life.”

In her closing statement, Antony told the jury they would have to decide if Goodwin ran into the garage to protect people from Harris or if he ran in “to do battle.”

She said the videos speak for themselves and show that Harris was scrambling to get up and run away from the people in the garage. She said Goodwin inserted himself in the situation and repeatedly kicked Harris while Harris was on the ground.

“DeAndre hasn’t touched him,” Antony said. “At no point does Mr. Goodwin move away.”

On the contrary, in his closing statement, Woodard said Harris was looking to pick a fight. He said a person holding a shield, like Goodwin, does not attack people, but a person holding a flashlight does.

“They want you to convict this man because he’s a white man and DeAndre is a black man,” Woodard said, drawing ire from the prosecution and a reprimand from the judge.

Woodard reiterated that Harris was “out of control” and Goodwin was defending himself.

Daily Progress