Charge upgraded against suspect in Charlottesville rally killing

The Dodge Challenger crept up, reversed, then accelerated toward the crowd. As he watched a surveillance video of tha...

Posted: Dec 15, 2017 1:52 PM
Updated: Dec 15, 2017 1:52 PM

The Dodge Challenger crept up, reversed, then accelerated toward the crowd. As he watched a surveillance video of that moment -- the car barreling toward people protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last summer -- Marcus Martin grew angry and cursed out loud.

"Take me out," Martin yelled during a hearing in Charlottesville on Thursday for James Alex Fields Jr., the man who prosecutors say drove the Challenger. Martin, who was injured as he pushed his fianc-e out of the car's path, stormed out the courtroom.

Prosecutors say Fields killed Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old Charlottesville paralegal, and injured others who were demonstrating against the "Unite the Right" rally. The event drew white nationalists and other far right organizations who opposed the city's decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park.

Fields, who initially was charged with second-degree murder and other offenses, now faces a charge of first-degree murder. A Charlottesville district court Judge announced the upgraded charge at the court hearing attended by Fields and about two dozen of Heyer's family members and supporters.

Prosecutors played the surveillance video from a Charlottesville restaurant in addition to a video from a Virginia State Police helicopter monitoring the events.

Authorities say the footage captures Fields' Challenger stopping about a block and a half away from protesters, reversing, then driving into the crowd and speeding away in reverse. Fields was apprehended about four minutes after the collision, about a mile away.

Fields could not be seen driving the car in either video, but the aerial shot showed Fields getting out of the car and on the ground after the collision.

Charlottesville Det. Steven Young, a prosecution witness, testified he was patrolling Emancipation Park on foot when he heard the radio traffic reporting an incident near Fourth and Water streets that day. He and three other officers jumped into a van and responded to the location where the Challenger had stopped.

Young said he arrived on the scene shortly after police pulled the Challenger over. By then, Fields was already on the ground in handcuffs, Young said.

The detective said he saw blood and flesh on the front of the car. The front fender was torn off and the windshield was cracked, Young said.

People had tried to stop Fields from driving away, creating two holes in the back window, said Young, who is investigating the case.

Young said he knows of 36 victims including Heyer.

Fields' attorney, Denise Lunsford, tried to paint her client as a sympathetic character as she cross-examined Young. The detective acknowledged that Fields said, "I'm sorry" several times and asked if people were okay after he was apprehended.

Fields was shocked, and cried and sobbed, when he later learned of the fatality, Young said.

Young said Fields told others he went to Charlottesville by himself and wanted to hear a speaker at the rally.

Exclusive photographs obtained by CNN appear to show Fields marching alongside neo-Nazis and other white supremacists at the rally in Charlottesville.

Fields' wrists and feet were shackled during the hearing. He sat not far from Heyer's mother, Susan Bro.

Heyer's favorite color was purple, and two women in the courtroom room wore purple shirts emblazoned with Heyer's photo. On the shirts was an anonymous quote Heyer believed in, and once posted on Facebook: "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."

Fields' case will go before a grand jury on Monday.

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