CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – On Thursday, the murder charge was upgraded against an Ohio man who police said drove his car into a crowd of people after a Unite the Right rally, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring many others.
Heyer's mother was in the Charlottesville courtroom for the hearing of James Fields Jr., who is represented by Denise Lumsford, Albemarle County’s former Commonwealth’s Attorney. His second-degree murder charge was upgraded to first-degree murder. Joseph Platania, the Commonwealth's Attorney handling the Fields' case in General District court, told the judge the murder charge was amended during the day Thursday.
After hearing evidence in the case, Judge Robert Downer granted the Commonwealth’s motion to certify one felony count of hit and run, five felony counts of malicious wounding, three felony counts of aggravated malicious wounding and one felony count of first degree murder.
Each of these cases will be presented to a regular grand jury of the Charlottesville Circuit Court at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 18. Further proceedings in each case will be scheduled at that time.
Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal from Charlottesville, was protesting the “Unite the Right” march on Aug. 12 when she was killed.
Investigators said other victims suffered serious injuries and in some cases permanent physical disabilities.
Video was shown Thursday that was taken by the Virginia State Police helicopter on August 12, which crashed later that day and killed two officers. The video showed the Dodge Challenger driven by Fields as it drove down 4th Street, which was supposed to have been securely blocked off.
Heyer's family sat quietly in the front row as prosecutors showed the moment of impact. The helicopter surveillance team was able to follow the Challenger after it backed out of the scene and until is stopped about away a mile away. At that location, Fields Jr. was taken into custody.
His attorney said that Fields did not have a weapon on him, nor did he show up with a group, though a photo did place Fields at the rally earlier in the day standing with members of "Vanguard America." Fields soiled himself at some point before or after the attack, the Charlottesville investigator testified. During cross examination, it was revealed that Fields asked how the people that were hit were doing, and sobbed when he heard Heyer died, the police detective said.
Jason Kessler, the organizer behind the Unite the Right rally, was in the courtroom listening to testimony.
All charges were certified Thursday. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys did not comment following the hearing.