Judge denies Cantwell motions

ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- The trial for a man accused of releasing pepper spray at the Rotunda on Aug. 11 will take place in Albemarle County, a judge ruled at a motions hearing Wednesday.

The attorney for Christopher Cantwell, Elmer Woodard, requested a change of venue, citing bias in the community that he said would prevent Cantwell from receiving a fair trial.

Cantwell is a racist, fascist blogger who also hosts an internet radio show called Radical Agenda.

Woodard echoed concerns voiced earlier by Jason Kessler's attorney that there could be potential "sleeper activists" in the jury pool who wouldn't admit they planned to convict Cantwell no matter what evidence was presented.

Judge Cheryl Higgins denied that motion and denied a second defense motion requesting a special prosecutor in the case.

For that motion, Woodard argued that Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Tracci had a potential conflict of interest because he could be called as a witness in Cantwell's civil suit against two accusers.

The two accusers had inconsistencies in their testimony that led a lower court to drop two additional charges against Cantwell. A grand jury later issued a direct indictment on another charge. He is now charged with two felonies for illegal use of a chemical agent.

Higgins did grant a defense request to expand the conditions of Cantwell's bond, allowing him to travel around the undisclosed Virginia city in which he is living ahead of his trial.

Outside court, a man waited for Cantwell with a message.

"You know, I've reached out to him several times," said the man, Christian Picciolini, a former skinhead turned renowned author and peace activist who is visiting Charlottesville.

Picciolini said Cantwell and Kessler should both be held accountable for their roles in the violence and tragedy of Aug. 11 and 12, but he said he believes that people like Cantwell can change.

"Nobody's born with a swastika under their pillow," he said. "And I don't know what his potholes are, but I'm willing to listen."

Cantwell was unreceptive to Picciolini's message, as he left court.

"Loser," he shouted at Picciolini, refusing comment when asked by reporters.

Picciolini said he wouldn't respond to Cantwell with anger.

"I've never said a mean word to him because I'm not about confrontation," he said. "I don't believe that punching a Nazi is going to change their mind. In fact, I think that probably makes them worse."

He said he's explained his position to Cantwell on multiple occasions.

"Apparently, he's scared of something," said Picciolini.

Cantwell's three-day trial begins Feb. 12.

Correction: A grand jury issued a direct indictment for another charge. Cantwell is facing two felony counts.

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