Driver accused in Charlottesville rally car attack faces upgraded murder charge

A man accused in August of ramming a car into counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, killing one person and injuring several others, is facing an upgraded charge of first-degree murder, according to multiple reports.

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Authorities arrested James Alex Fields Jr., 20, on multiple charges after the Aug. 12 attack left Heather Heyer, 32, dead and more than a dozen people injured.

He appeared in court Thursday for a preliminary hearing, at which District Court Judge Robert Downer Jr. certified 10 charges against Fields, The Daily Progress reported. Along with the murder charge, Fields is facing three counts of malicious wounding, three counts of aggravated malicious wounding, two counts of felonious assault and one count of hit-and-run, according to the newspaper.

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The case will go before a grand jury to determine whether there is enough evidence for prosecutors to take it to trial.

Fields kept his eyes glued to the table in front of him for most of Thursday's hearing, with his attorney, Denise Lunsford, at his side, according to The Daily Progress.

A Charlottesville police detective told people gathered in court Thursday that Fields asked about the conditions of those he hit with his car "and sobbed when he heard Heyer died," according to WTVR.

Detective Steven Young said the Dodge Challenger that Fields was driving "had heavy front-end damage, holes in the rear window and was splattered with blood and flesh," The Daily Progress reported. A photo shared by prosecutors in court showed a pair of sunglasses stuck to the spoiler on the car's trunk.

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A video shown in court, taken by a Virginia State Police helicopter that crashed later on Aug. 12, killing two officers, showed the Challenger as it struck pedestrians. The vehicle backed away from the scene, but it was stopped with Fields inside about a mile away, according to WTVR.

Another video, taken from a restaurant's surveillance camera, showed the Challenger moving slowly toward the area where Young said counterprotesters were gathered, according to The Associated Press. In the video, the car could be seen reversing before speeding forward.

After the video played, a man who was watching Thursday's court proceedings shouted, "Take me out," according to the AP. He and others left the courtroom.

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Young told people gathered in court that the Aug. 12 car attack left 36 people injured, including Heyer, up from the 12 reported in the weeks after the attack. The AP reported some of those wounded suffered significant injuries and must now use wheelchairs.

Heyer's family members were in court for the hearing, as was Jason Kessler, the organizer of the Unite the Right rally, according to WTVR.

Fields is accused of slamming a car into two vehicles and counterprotesters at the Unite the Right rally. He traveled from his home in Ohio to participate in the demonstration, which was organized by white supremacists to oppose the removal of a Confederate memorial from Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park.

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Fields' former high school teacher, Derek Weimer, told CNN that Fields "was very big into Nazism. He really had a fondness for Adolf Hitler."

The AP reported Downer also presided over the preliminary hearings of three other defendants charged in connection to the August rally. Richard Preston is accused of firing a gun, while Jacob Goodwin and Alex Ramos are accused of attacking a man in a parking garage in a confrontation caught on videos and photos that subsequently went viral.

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