Trial to start of man charged with murder at Charlottesville rally

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(Reuters) – James Fields Jr., the man accused of killing a woman when he drove into a crowd of counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was due to go on trial on Monday on a charge of first-degree murder.

Fields, 21, was among hundreds of white nationalists who attended the “Unite the Right” rally on Aug. 12, 2017, where prosecutors say he plowed his car into people protesting the event, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring 19 others.

Fields has been charged in Virginia with 10 criminal counts including first-degree murder and malicious assault. According to court documents, the jury trial in Charlottesville Circuit Court is scheduled to last 18 days, through Dec. 13.

If Fields is convicted of first-degree murder, he could face life in prison.

In June, the U.S. Department of Justice said it was also indicting Fields on 30 federal hate crimes charges, for which he could face the death penalty if convicted. Fields pleaded not guilty to the federal charges in July in his first court appearance since the rally.

A resident of Ohio, Fields routinely promoted racist ideologies on his social media accounts, including expressing support for Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust, according to federal prosecutors.

He had traveled to Charlottesville in August 2017 to join other white nationalists in protesting against the city’s removal of a statue honoring a commander of the Confederate Army, the losing side of the U.S. Civil War, which fought for the preservation of slavery.

After the rally, U.S. President Donald Trump faced intense criticism when he seemed to equate the white nationalists with the counter-protesters, saying there were “very fine people on both sides.”

Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Leslie Adler

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