CHARLOTTESVILLE — The counterprotesters who had gathered in this city’s downtown were cheering, chanting and hugging one another. The white supremacist rally had been stopped before it was supposed to begin. “These are the happy people,” Marissa Blair Martin remembered thinking, as she, her fiance and her friend Heather Heyer walked to join the marching crowd.
Blair Martin live-streamed the scene on her Facebook page. She said she wanted people to see the celebration, and she wanted friends who were concerned for her safety to know there was nothing to worry about.
Then, she heard the sound of tires screeching, and the joy turned to “moments of terror,” Blair Martin testified.
As the murder trial of James A. Fields Jr. entered its second week here Monday, Blair Martin was among the witnesses who continued to describe the chaos of Aug. 12, 2017, when Heyer — whom Blair Martin described as compassionate, “always outspoken but not argumentative” — was killed.
Fields, a self-professed neo-Nazi who had driven from his apartment in Ohio to the “Unite the Right” rally, roared his car into the counterprotesters, killing Heyer and wounding 35 others, some seriously.
The death capped off a violent day of hate that captured worldwide attention and forever tied this quiet college town to the emergence of white supremacists emboldened by the presidency of Donald Trump.
Fields, who sat at the defense table in a blue long-sleeved shirt, is on trial on a charge of first-degree murder in Charlottesville Circuit Court, just a few blocks from where Heyer was killed. He is also accused of five counts of aggravated malicious wounding and three counts of malicious wounding related to eight of the 35 who were injured.
Blair Martin said Heyer wasn’t completely sure if she was going to the rally that summer day. But Heyer called her to say that she was already there. They met at a nearby McDonald’s parking lot and walked toward the counterprotesters at Fourth and Water streets.
“We were just walking, happy, and all of a sudden, it was complete chaos,” said Blair Martin, who found herself on a sidewalk after her then-fiance, Marcus Martin, pushed her out of the car’s path. She hid in an alley, her hands shaking as her live stream continued. As she walked back to the street, she saw a red baseball cap covered in blood. She testified that she refused to look down again, fearing what she would see.
She found Martin, his face bloody. “I just held him,” she said.
Like Blair Martin, Thomas Baker joined the counterprotesters after seeing them celebrating on the street. There were families and children, he said.
“It felt like a safe place to me,” Baker testified.
Then he heard screaming and loud thumps. A car hit his lower body, sending him bouncing off the windshield and into the air. His large back tattoo was exposed as he nose-dived and fell to the ground.
After he landed, Baker’s first thought was, “Can you move your legs?” Fifteen months later, Baker said he has recovered, but strenuous activity still hurts his hips.
Heyer had no pulse when paramedics arrived minutes later. She had a large bruise on her chest and a big cut on her leg. Her color had begun to fade as first responders tried to revive her, said Capt. Steward “Nick” Barrell of the Charlottesville Fire Department.
The 32-year-old paralegal died of blunt-force trauma to the chest; her aorta had been torn, Jennifer Nicole Bowers, an assistant chief medical examiner, testified.
Heyer’s blood was found on the exterior of Fields’s 2010 Dodge Charger, testified Kristin Van Itallie, a DNA analyst.
Other victims of the crash testified last week about the extent of their injuries as prosecutors showed pictures of broken bones and red marks.
Prosecutors, who expect to wrap up their case Tuesday, say an enraged Fields traveled to Charlottesville, choosing to act on that anger. They said he backed up his Dodge before barreling forward and crashing into another vehicle at the corner where the counterprotesters were gathered. If convicted of first-degree murder, he could face a life sentence.
Once the prosecution finishes presenting evidence, the defense will have an opportunity to make its case.
Fields’s defense attorneys are not denying that he killed Heyer, but they have said they will present evidence that Fields rammed his car into the crowd because he feared for his life and believed he needed to defend himself. Absent a first-
degree murder conviction, which requires an intent to kill, a jury could find Fields guilty of second-degree murder, punishable by up to 40 years in prison.
Paul Duggan contributed to this report.