Charlottesville suspect shared picture of Hitler with his mother days before Unite the Right rally, prosecutors say
The man on trial for killing Heather Heyer at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, texted his mother a picture of Adolf Hitler four days before the event in August 2017, according to prosecutors.
The commonwealth asked the court to admit, as evidence, a short series of text messages from James Fields to his mother that included a photo of the dictator. However, defense attorneys say including the texts and picture as evidence will create prejudice against Fields, 21, who is accused of driving his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counterprotesters during the August 2017 Unite the Right rally, killing Heyer and injuring several others.
The trial began on Thursday in a case focused on Fields’ intent. The judge informed the jury that the prosecution is expected to rest before lunch Tuesday.
Fields faces a possible life sentence if convicted of first-degree murder. He faces eight more counts related to eight people who were injured and one count of failing to stop at an accident involving a death.
‘We’re not the one who need to be careful’
“I got the weekend off, so I’ll be able to go to the rally,” Fields texted his mother on August 8, 2017, four days before the Unite the Right rally.
His mother responded on August 10: “Be careful.”
On August 11, the day before the rally, Fields replied: “We’re not the one (sic) who need to be careful.”
That message was followed by an image of Hitler.
Prosecutors argue the text and picture need to be included as evidence because “Fields willfully used the image to relate to his mother his intent, motive and state of mind,” according to a motion to admit the texts.
“It is universally known and recognized that Adolf Hitler was a German dictator who was responsible for the mass murder of millions of Jews, political and ideological opponents, and ethnic minorities,” prosecutors said in court documents.
“The inclusion of Hitler implies both aggression and violent intent towards opponents Fields expected to encounter the next day.”
In their objection, Fields’ defense attorneys said that including the evidence creates the “possibility for prejudice.”
“In this case, the meme’s meaning is far more ambiguous and does not indicate either approval or disapproval of Hitler or his actions,” defense attorneys wrote.
Focus turns to Fields’ behavior
Defense lawyers this week are expected to call some of the same witnesses questioned by prosecutors to support their version of events: that Fields acted of fear of the counterprotesters and not with criminal intent.
The commonwealth contends that Fields’ actions were premeditated with the intention to harm the counterprotesters.
Those who knew Fields at his Ohio high school said he held extreme views and a fascination with Nazism. To support the argument that Fields acted out of anger toward counterprotesters, the commonwealth’s attorneys called a police witness to provide a step-by-step tracking of Fields’ actions before, during and after the incident.
Charlottesville Police Det. Steven Young testified on Friday that footage from the Unite the Right rally earlier in the day shows Fields chanting homophobic and anti-Semitic slurs as he marched with others.
A short time later, helicopter footage shows his car driving into the crowd.
“Is it fair to say Mr. Fields does not stop after hitting the crowd?” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina Antony asked the detective.
“Yes,” Young said. “He took off again, then stopped.”
The commonwealth’s attorneys said they intend to introduce images that Fields shared on Instagram three months before the deadly crash.
The two memes show a car running into a group of people described as protesters. One was shared in a private message and the other in a public post. Judge Richard Moore granted the commonwealth’s request to show them to the jury despite objections from the defense.