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February 22, 2019

Neo-Nazi suspect in Charlottesville rampage will argue self-defense: lawyer

Neo-Nazi suspect in Charlottesville rampage will argue self-defense: lawyer
'James Fields went on trial on November 26, 2018 before the Charlottesville Circuit Court for allegedly ramming his car into counter-protesters at a 2017 white supremacist rally in the Virginia city' - By: AFP/File Brendan Smialowski

An American neo-Nazi on trial for murder will argue he was trying to defend himself when he rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters at a white supremacist rally, his lawyer said Tuesday.

The defense team of James Alex Fields Jr also plan to raise his mental health at the time of the incident and call forensic psychiatrists as their witnesses.

The 21-year-old is charged with first-degree murder over the death of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal and social activist, during the "Unite the Right" protest in August 2017.

He also faces hit-and-run charges and eight counts of causing serious injury.

Speaking on the second day of jury selection, defense lawyer John Hill said: "There will be evidence the defendant took these actions in an attempt to defend himself," and asked prospective jurors if they believed violence could ever be condoned in self-defense.

He added: "There will be testimony concerning the defendant's mental health.

"Do any of you have personal experience dealing with mental health issues?"

Another of Fields' lawyers, Denise Lunsford, listed several experts from the University of Virginia's Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy whom the defense planned to call.

Fields, wearing a dark blue suit and glasses with his hair combed neatly to one side, watched the jury attentively.

More than 100 prospective jurors were questioned over the course of Monday in a process that lasted into the night.

Speaking to prospective jurors on Tuesday morning, Judge Richard Moore asked whether any had "heard, seen or read anything about this in the media?"

When all raised their hands, he added: "Can you set these aside, or are they going to intrude on your decision making process?"

None raised their hand, though the defense team indicated they would question the jurors further separately.

Earlier, the judge said he expected to seat a jury by Wednesday.

If convicted of first degree murder Fields faces 20 years to life in prison.

The August 12, 2017 rampage in Virginia capped two days of confrontations between white supremacists protesting the removal of a Confederate statue and counter-demonstrators.

The violence shook the country, and became a symbol of the growing audacity of the far right under President Donald Trump.

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