Defense seeks to portray white nationalist accused of murder as threatened at Virginia rally

(Note language in fourth paragraph, which may be objectionable to some readers.)

By Gary Robertson

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Reuters) - A self-styled anti-fascist who guarded counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally last year told a Virginia court on Thursday that he had warned a man on trial for killing a woman by plowing his car into a crowd to leave the area immediately.

Dwayne Dixon, a member of the left-wing group Red Neck Revolt, told the jury at the murder trial of James Fields that he had encountered the defendant while guarding opponents to the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.

With an AR-15 rifle slung over his shoulder, Dixon said he saw the 21-year-old defendant make three passes in his Dodge Challenger at Jackson Park, where counterprotesters had gathered.

“I yelled, ‘Get the fuck out of here’ or something to that effect,” Dixon told the jury.

At that point, about 30 to 60 minutes before the fatal car-ramming incident two blocks away, Fields' car “slowly accelerated away,” Dixon said.

Dixon, who teaches at the University of North Carolina, was the latest witness called by the defense, which is making a case that Fields feared for his life and was acting in self-defense when his car killed counterprotester Heather Heyer, 32, and injured 19 others on Aug. 12, 2017.

The week-old trial is nearing its conclusion, although proceedings were stalled for part of Thursday when one of the final defense witnesses failed to show up and had to be summoned to court. Closing arguments are expected on Friday.

State prosecutors are trying show that Fields deliberately intended to ram his car into the crowd. He faces 10 charges, including murder, which carries a maximum life sentence if he is convicted.

Other defense witnesses who attended the white nationalist rally testified this week that they too encountered threats of violence from counterprotesters.

Fields was one of hundreds of white nationalists who descended on Charlottesville that weekend to protest the planned removal from a public park of a statue honoring the U.S. Civil War-era Confederacy.

Earlier this week, jurors heard that the day before going to Charlottesville, Fields exchanged cellphone text messages with his mother suggesting the counterprotesters would "need to be careful," and sent her an image of Adolf Hitler.

After his arrest, Fields broke down in tears at the police station upon learning he had killed someone, according to video footage shown to the jury.

(Writing by Peter Szekely; Editing by Frank McGurty and Jonathan Oatis)

12/06/2018 14:53

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