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Final witness in Charlottesville trial says James Fields was ‘calm and normal’ on day of rally

Posted at 4:38 PM, Dec 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-06 18:46:11-05

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- James Fields appeared "calm and normal" and "maybe ... a little scared" on the day he rammed his car into counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, the final defense witness at his murder trial testified Thursday.

The witness, Joshua Matthews, testified about the moments before Fields plowed into the counterprotesters during the August 12, 2017, rally, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring more than a dozen others.

Matthews' testimony was largely consistent with other defense witnesses, who told the court that Fields didn't appear angry or agitated before he got behind the wheel of his car.

Though Fields appeared "calm and normal," Matthews testified, "maybe he seemed a little scared."

While walking with other rallygoers, however, Fields allegedly yelled back at a counterprotester who shouted something along of the lines of "Get out of our town," according to Matthews. The witness said he couldn't recall what Fields said.

James Fields

The 21-year-old defendant is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Heather Heyer, who was protesting against the "Unite the Right" rally.

The jury that will decide Fields' fate was to be instructed by the judge and hear closing arguments after Matthews' testimony.

On Wednesday, fellow protesters testified that Fields asked them to lunch shortly before ramming his car into a throng of people.

Hayden Calhoun and his girlfriend declined, Calhoun testified.

Twenty minutes later, Fields plowed into the crowd.

Both the prosecution and defense agree that Fields drove into the counterprotesters. But while the prosecution believes Fields had malicious intent, the defense team said he feared the counterprotesters and acted in self-defense.

If convicted, Fields could be sentenced to life in prison. He also faces eight other counts related to eight people injured in the crash, as well as one count of failing to stop at an accident involving a death.

Calhoun said he and his girlfriend attended the rally and spent part of the day with Fields, whom they had just met that day.

Calhoun testified that Fields was calm and seemed tired.

James Fields

Under cross-examination, Calhoun testified that the only interactions he and Fields had with counterprotesters were verbal, not physical. Calhoun said counterprotesters didn't attack them or throw anything at them.

Previously, Fields had described counterprotesters as "a violent mob of terrorists."

Footage of the crash showed Fields' Dodge Challenger careening into pedestrians, sending some airborne.

On Wednesday, Trooper Clifford Lee Thomas, a crash reconstructionist for the Virginia State Police, testified that Fields had accelerated to a maximum of 28 mph before crashing into a Toyota Camry.

The impact caused the Camry to go from zero to 17 mph in 150 milliseconds, Thomas said.

Charlottesville Police Detective Steven Young and Calhoun's girlfriend, Sarah Bolstad, also testified before the court took a lunch break.

Bolstad said she met Fields when they were turned away from McIntire Park by police. She testified she and Calhoun were approached by Fields and another man, who suggested they travel together as there is safety in numbers.

"I felt really comfortable with them," she said. She added that Fields "didn't seem angry" and "seemed normal."

She never saw Fields during times when bottles were being thrown, she told the court.