Jury considering prison sentence for Fields

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- The jury gathered once more in Charlottesville on Monday, this time to determine how much time James Fields, Jr. should spend in prison.

On Friday, Fields was convicted on ten charges, including first-degree murder for the death of Heather Heyer on Aug. 12, 2017.

Victim statements were being presented in court. Due to a storm that dropped several inches of snow on Sunday, the court reconvened at 11 a.m. following a two-hour delay.

People affected by the car attack during which Fields rammed his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of people on Fourth and Water streets following the Unite the Right rally will take the stand to talk about the impact that day has had on them.

Once again, this means the victims will have to re-live their trauma as they share their struggles with the jury.

Star Peterson was the first victim to take the stand. She was left permanently disabled by the attack and has already undergone five surgeries for the injuries to her leg.

She told the jury she has constant nerve pain and says it feels like someone puts tape on her leg just to rip the hairs off over and over.

Peterson has a sixth surgery scheduled for next year.

However, perhaps her most emotional testimony was when she talked about Heyer.

“I saw Heather fly into the air before I was struck,” said Peterson on the stand. “I will never forget the look in her eyes.”

Heyer's mother, Susan Bro, also testified, saying the death of her daughter was "like an explosion" in her family and among Heyer's friends.

She said her family is "forever scarred by the pain," and said she would give everything to hold her daughter again.

"She was full of love. She was full of justice. She was full of fairness," Bro said of Heyer. "Mr. Fields tried to silence that, and I refuse to allow that."

Monday afternoon, Fields' attorney, Denise Lunsford, called Dr. Daniel Murrie, a psychologist from the University of Virginia School of Medicine, to testify about Fields' mental status.

Murrie said he has met with Fields five times at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail between October 2017 and May 2018.

He testified about an emotional and traumatic upbringing he had, as Fields' father died in a car crash before he was born, and his grandparents died as a result of a murder-suicide.

Murrie said Fields and his family had a history of mental illness including bipolar disorder, which Fields was diagnosed with at age six.

He said while growing up, Fields would have "volatile and emotional outbursts," which required him to receive special education services in grade school.

Fields was also hospitalized in a mental facility at ages seven, 10, and 14, at which point he was diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder.

Murrie said the common symptoms were similar to that of autism, including social isolation.

He said records also showed Fields may have had Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism spectrum disorder.

"He said his only friends were people online with video games," said Murrie. "It was a lifestyle structured around being alone.

Murrie said he completed a mental evaluation on Fields after the Aug. 12 car attack and found him to be legally sane at the time of the of the incident.

During cross-examination by Charlottesville Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Nina Antony, she pointed out several violent behaviors from Fields.

Antony said at age 10, he was suspended from school after he was caught drawing obscene matter in a textbook.

School records indicate Fields said, "I'm going to kill her, I'm going to butcher her up."

Antony said a school psychiatrist later indicated he showed regret for that statement, but not remorse.

Fields was convicted of first-degree murder, five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, three counts of malicious wounding, and one count of leaving the scene of a fatal crash.

He is facing up to six life sentences in prison for the murder and aggravated malicious wounding charges. The minimum prison sentence he faces is 136 years.

The jury will make a recommendation on a sentence, and then Fields will be formally sentenced at a later date.

Members of the jury will reconvene Tuesday morning to continue their deliberations on the sentence.

--Correction: Star Peterson and Heather Heyer were not close friends.



 
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