The memory of August’s deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA still looms in the minds of many Americans.
In a surprising twist, James Alex Fields, the 20-year-old man accused off running over and killing 32-year-old counter-protester Heather Heyer, was hit on Thursday with the charge of first degree murder.
Prosecutors asked Charlottesville General District Court Judge Robert Downer, Jr. to upgrade Fields’ second degree murder charge to first degree after presenting surveillance footage and other evidence, NBC News reports.
Judge Downer ruled in favor of letting all charges against Fields proceed. The 20-year-old protester was also charged with counts of malicious wounding, aggravated malicious wounding, and failure to stop his vehicle following an accident. He has been held without bail.
Footage captured by a Virginia State Police helicopter showed the moment the car drove into the crowd, reversed, and eventually pulled over.
A video of the event recorded from a restaurant depicted the car heading slowly into what a Charlottesville detective said was the direction of the counter-protesters. The vehicle reversed and then sped forward into the frame again.
Fields’ attorney, Denise Lunsford cross-examined Police Det. Steven Young. She asked if Young’s searches of Fields’ computer, phone or social media confirmed claims that Fields belonged to Vanguard America (whose emblem was on a shield he was pictured holding) or any other white nationalist group.
Young said “No.” The detective, who was among the first officers to respond when Fields was pulled over, also stated that no weapon was found in Fields’ car.
According to the law enforcement officer, Fields said he was sorry at the time he was pulled over and asked if people were fine. Upon being told a person had died, Fields reportedly began to weep.
Police have identified 36 victims of the car attack, including Heyer. Some of the victims are “wheelchair bound,” Young said.
Judge Downer also presided over hearings for three other Charlottesville-related defendants. Richard Preston was accused of firing a gun. Jacob Goodwin and Alex Ramos were accused of attacking a man in a parking garage, an incident captured in a viral video.
All three men had their charges certified, and, like Fields, their cases will proceed to a grand jury.