Man faces first-degree murder charge in Charlottesville auto ramming

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The 20-year-old OH man who's accused of ramming a auto into a crowd of people protesting a white nationalist rally has had his most serious charge upgraded to first-degree murder.

20, appeared in handcuffs and a black-and-white striped jail uniform while during a preliminary hearing in a downtown Charlottesville circuit court Thursday, where a murder charge against him was upgraded from second-degree murder to first-degree murder.

He faces life in prison if convicted on the first-degree murder charge. His case will now be presented next week to a grand jury for an indictment.

On Aug. 12, Fields allegedly drove into a crowd of counterprotestors who were demonstrating against the white nationalist rally, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring several others. The rally by a loosely connected mix of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists was the largest gathering of such groups in a decade.

Surveillance footage from a Virginia State Police helicopter, played by prosecutors in court, captured the moment of impact by the auto and the cursing of the startled troopers on board. Video of the crash showed the auto reversing and hitting more people amid a screech of tires. The helicopter had been monitoring the violence, and prosecutors questioned Charlottesville Police Det. Fields has said that he drove to Charlottesville by himself from OH and wanted to hear a speaker at the rally - he was revealed to have had Nazi sympathies in high school.

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After the rally, Republican President Donald Trump inflamed tensions by saying there were "very fine people" on both sides, drawing condemnation from some Republican leaders and praise from white supremacists.

Photos taken the morning of Ms. Heyer's death show Mr. Fields with members of one such group - which denied any connection to him - carrying a shield with one of its emblems. A former teacher, Derek Weimer, has said Fields was fascinated in high school with Nazism, idolized Adolf Hitler, and had been singled out by officials at his Union, Kentucky, high school for "deeply held, radical" convictions on race.

Seeing the video images, Marcus Martin, the young man in a widely shared photo of him being flipped into the air by the speeding auto, jumped up from his seat, shouted "Take me out", and left with two companions.

Young said he arrived on the scene shortly after police pulled the Challenger over.

Marcus Martin, who was hit and upended by the auto as it plowed through the crowd, said he planned to attend Thursday's hearing.

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Lunsford asked the detective what Fields said as he was being detained.

Young said he knows of 36 victims including Heyer. Some have significant injuries and are "wheelchair bound", Young said.

The judge also certified charges against three other defendants in cases related to the August rally.

The man who organized the rally, Jason Kessler, denounced what he called a "kangaroo court" for the charges against Mr. Ramos and Mr. Goodwin, and called Charlottesville a communist city.

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