James Fields guilty of first-degree murder in Charlottesville car attack at white nationalist rally

Just over a year after he plowed his vehicle into a crowd protesting a white nationalist rally, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, James Alex Fields Jr. was convicted Friday of first-degree murder and other felonies – and now faces the possibility of life in prison. A jury needed a little more than seven hours to convict … Continue reading “James Fields guilty of first-degree murder in Charlottesville car attack at white nationalist rally”

Just over a year after he plowed his vehicle into a crowd protesting a white nationalist rally, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, James Alex Fields Jr. was convicted Friday of first-degree murder and other felonies – and now faces the possibility of life in prison.

A jury needed a little more than seven hours to convict Fields, of Maumee, Ohio, in the killing of Heyer during a “Unite the Right” rally in Virginia on Aug. 12, 2017.

He was also found guilty of five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, three counts of malicious wounding and a count of leaving the scene of an accident. Fields faces life in prison.

During closing arguments Thursday, prosecutor Nina-Alice Antony portrayed Fields as a hateful young man who idled his vehicle for more than a minute before backing up and then speeding into the crowd, killing Heyer and injuring dozens of other people.

Video from a Virginia State Police helicopter captured the incident, showing a grey muscle car as it rammed the group and then drove away.

Antony also referenced a text message sent by Fields the day before the rally after his mother told him to be careful.

In the text, accompanied by a picture of Adolf Hitler, Fields wrote: “we’re not the one (sic) who need to be careful.”

Antony also repeatedly reminded jurors about a meme Fields posted on Instagram three months before the crash. The image showed a crowd, identified as “protesters,” being rammed by a car, and depicted bodies being tossed in the air.

"What we have is a man who had a decision, and he decides to turn his Instagram post into reality," she said.

Defense attorney Denise Lunsford urged the jury to consider the chaos of the day, including the use of tear gas and a series of street fights between white nationalists, Antifa activists and counter-protesters.

Lunsford said Fields only drove into the crowd out of fear after finding himself alone and unprotected.

“Look at the circumstances as they appeared to him,” Lunsford said. “He says he felt he was in danger, there were people coming at him.”

On Thursday, she urged the jury to find Fields guilty of “no more than” the lesser charges of manslaughter in Heyer’s death and unlawful wounding for the injuries to others.

The “Unite the Right” rally was organized to protest plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Lucia I. Suarez Sang is a Reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow her on Twitter @luciasuarezsang

Virginia teacher reportedly fired for refusing to use pronoun for transgender student

The West Point School Board in Virginia reportedly decided to terminate one of their teachers on Thursday because he refused to use the pronouns that a transgender student identified with.

Peter Vlaming, who taught French at West Point High School, lost his job after the board made the unanimous 5-0 decision following a hearing, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“As detailed during the course of the public hearing, Mr. Vlaming was recommended for termination due to his insubordination and repeated refusal to comply with directives made to him by multiple WPPS administrators,” West Point schools Superintendent Laura Abel said in a statement obtained by the outlet.

The situation reportedly came about after the 9th-grade student transitioned from a girl to a boy, following which the school was notified.

Vlaming was the student’s teacher during the previous school year, at the time of which they identified as a female, he told the outlet.

While Vlaming conceded to referring to the student by their male name, he refrained from addressing him by any identifying pronoun, the Times-Dispatch said. He reportedly cited his belief as a Christian as the reason why he wouldn’t use male pronouns for the student.

The student revealed that the situation left him feeling ostracized, the outlet said and school officials reportedly backed the pupil.

“That discrimination then leads to creating a hostile learning environment. And the student had expressed that. The parent had expressed that,” Abel told the Times-Dispatch. “They felt disrespected.”

As a result, officials suggested that the teacher be terminated because his actions were not in accordance with the school system’s nondiscrimination and harassment guidelines, the outlet said.

Shawn Voyles, Vlaming’s legal representation, told the Times-Dispatch that although the recently-updated guidelines safeguarded gender identity, they did not include specifications on pronoun usage.

Vlaming told the outlet that the situation wasn’t about “tolerance,” but rather “coercion.” He also said that he attempted to find a suitable outcome on “mutual tolerance,” but he was turned down.

“I am being punished for what I haven’t said,” Vlaming told the Times-Dispatch.

The teacher reportedly hasn’t decided whether he’ll launch an appeal.

Vlaming is not being accused of intentionally referring to the student as a female while he was around, the outlet noted. However, he did reportedly use female associations when talking to other people.

Neither the student nor their family took part in the school board’s hearing, the outlet said.

The school district responded to Fox News with the following statement:

"Last night, the School Board made a difficult decision after thoughtful consideration. It is the Board’s responsibility to adopt and uphold policy, and we unanimously voted to affirm the superintendent’s recommendation to terminate Mr. Vlaming.

"West Point Public Schools has the responsibility to ensure all students have a safe and supportive school environment where they can learn and thrive. We do not and cannot tolerate discrimination in any form, or actions that create a hostile environment for any member of our school family. Mr. Vlaming was asked repeatedly, over several weeks and by multiple administrators, to address a student by the pronouns with which this student identifies. The issue before us was not one mistaken slip of the tongue. Mr. Vlaming consistently refused to comply going forward — including in a statement made at the hearing — a willful violation of school board policy.

"While we understand that some do not agree with our decision, we hope to have discussions that help West Point Public Schools move forward, maintain our focus on excellence and instruction, and make a positive impact on the lives of our community’s children."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jury to deliberate on murder charge in Charlottesville, Virginia, car ramming

A Virginia jury is poised to begin deliberations on Friday in the trial of an Ohio man accused of driving his car into a group of counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in August 2017, killing one woman and injuring dozens.

The man, James Alex Fields Jr., is accused of first-degree murder and other felonies in connection with the crash, which came after police forced crowds at the rally to disband. That decision following clashes between white nationalists who came to the town to protest plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, and counterdemonstrators who showed up to oppose the white nationalists.

Prosecutor Nina-Alice Antony portrayed Fields to the jury as a hateful young man who idled in his car for more than a minute before backing up and then speeding into the crowd. She referenced a text message sent by Fields the day before the rally in response to his mother's plea for him to be careful. Fields wrote that 'we're not the one (sic) who need to be careful," accompanied by a picture of Adolf Hitler.

Antony also repeatedly reminded the jurors about a meme Fields posted on Instagram three months before the crash. The image shows bodies tossed into the air after a car plows into a crowd identified as "protesters."

Women sit by an impromptu memorial to victims of the Charlottesville car attack. (REUTERS)

"What we have is a man who had a decision, and he decides to turn his Instagram post into reality," she said.

Defense attorney Denise Lunsford said Fields drove into the crowd out of fear after finding himself alone and unprotected as he attempted to leave town. She said he saw a large crowd down the street surrounding two other cars and feared he would be attacked.

"Look at the circumstances as they appeared to him," Lunsford said. "He says he felt he was in danger, there were people coming at him."

Lunsford said Fields had urine thrown at him and had been yelled at by counterprotesters during a chaotic day that saw street fights break out between the two groups while authorities used tear gas in a bid to disperse them.

The crash killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer, a paralegal and activist. In addition to murder, Fields faces five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, three counts of malicious wounding and a count of leaving the scene of an accident.

Heather Heyer, who was killed when Fields drove his car into the crowd.

Lunsford urged the jury to find Fields guilty of "no more than" the lesser charges of manslaughter in Heyer's death and unlawful wounding for the injuries to others.

In testimony earlier Thursday, a man who was with Fields shortly before the crash said he appeared calm and "maybe a little bit scared."

Joshua Matthews said he met Fields in a Charlottesville park where white nationalists had gathered. After police declared an "unlawful assembly," Fields, Matthews and two other people decided to walk together "as it would probably be more safe," Matthews said.

He said while they were walking, a group of "antifas" — short for anti-fascists — yelled at them. He said Fields yelled something back, although he said he couldn't remember what Fields said.

The defense also called to the stand a left-wing defense group member who claimed in an earlier social media post that he had scared Fields away from a park where counterprotesters had gathered about an hour before the vehicle mayhem unfolded.

Dwayne Dixon testified that he saw a gray "muscle car" drive by several times. He said he yelled "Get the (expletive) out of here" at the car while wearing his gun slung over his shoulder. He testified that he could not see the driver because the car had tinted windows. Dixon has claimed previously that he used his gun to scare off a man he believes was Fields.

Dixon said he believes that was about 30 minutes to an hour before the car surged into the crowd..

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Virginia man convicted of illegally feeding bears for 10 years, ordered to pay ‘highest allowed’ fine: report

A Richmond, Virginia man who illegally fed bears for a decade in an alleged effort to protect them has been convicted.

The man, who was not been publicly identified, was convicted Nov. 7 following years of reports of “unusual bear activity” near his property, NBC12 reported, citing the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

BEAR STROLLS INTO CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL OFFICE, SNOOPS AROUND VENDING MACHINE

Prior to his conviction, the man reportedly admitted to feeding the bears, telling officials he spent an estimated $10,000 on food for the animals each year, the department said, according to NBC12. He claimed feeding the bears was a way to “protect” them from poachers and help those that were sick or hurt.

But his actions caused conservation officers to trap and remove many “nuisance” bears in the area throughout the years; the animals have become accustomed to human food and have caused “thousands of dollars of damage to surrounding property,” the news station reported.

The bears also reportedly had symptoms of sarcoptic mange, a skin condition caused by mites that are easily spread from animal to animal.

SOUTH CAROLINA SHARK ATTACK SURVIVOR SHARES TERRIFYING VIDEO OF INCIDENT: I HEARD THE 'CRUNCH OF MY HEAD'

The man, who was convicted of a Class 3 misdemeanor, was required to pay a $500 fine for feeding the animals. The charge is reportedly the “highest allowed” under the state’s law.

A spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment Friday morning.

Madeline Farber is a Reporter for Fox News. You can follow her on Twitter @MaddieFarberUDK.

Pony rescued from hayloft in dramatic fashion

A precocious pony looking for a late-night snack had the adventure of a lifetime earlier this week and had to be rescued after climbing up to a hayloft and getting trapped.

Doug Monaco, the chief of the Little Fork Volunteer Technical Large Animal Rescue Team, said they received a call Monday morning that a 12-year-old Welsh Percheron cross pony named Holly had to be extricated from the top of a hayloft after she walked up the stairs in search of the mother-load of food.

Monaco told Fox News on Friday it seems like one of the draft horses at a property in Page County had moved an obstacle that kept the animals out of the barn sometime Sunday night. Seeing an opportunity for a late-night snack, Holly trotted into the building and followed her nose to the hay – which was on the second-floor loft.

Holly stuck after climbing up the steps looking for a late-night snack. (Little Fork Volunteer Technical Large Animal Rescue)

“Because of their poor depth perception, horses don’t do well going back down steps,” Monaco said.

When Monaco and crew arrived at the barn, Holly was “calm, cool and collected.”

After assessing the situation, Monaco and his team – with the help of the Luray Volunteer Fire Department, the Page County Sheriff’s Office and a local veterinarian – determined the best way to bring Holly down was to use a telehandler machine from a nearby property.

“We thought about using our rig to do a pulley system to a rescue glide to bring her down the stairs, but the stairways were not wide enough and there was a 90-degree turn at the bottom,” he said.

Holly was lowered down from hayloft in dramatic fashion.  (Little Fork Volunteer Technical Large Animal Rescue)

With the help of the veterinarian, they were able to sedate Holly before using a sling, straps and ropes to bring her down.

“Holly seemed apprehensive when she was moved off the porch and found herself [20 feet] off the ground, but she remained calm and was slowly lowered to the ground,” the team wrote in a Facebook post documenting the dramatic rescue.

Monaco said this was the second time in their seven years rescuing large animals they have had to rescue a pony from a hayloft. In 2016, they received a similar call from Botetourt County, Virginia.

“It was a true oddity,” he said.

Lucia I. Suarez Sang is a Reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow her on Twitter @luciasuarezsang

Melania Trump calls opioid epidemic ‘worst drug crisis in American history’

LYNCHBURG, Va. – First lady Melania Trump called the opioid epidemic the "worst drug crisis in American history" during a town-hall meeting with students at Liberty University in Virginia on Wednesday. 

"When I took on opioid abuse as one of one of my pillars of my initiative 'Be Best,' I did it with the goal of helping children of all ages," the first lady said. "I have visited several hospitals and facilities that are dedicated to helping all who have been affected with this disease, including people who are addicted, babies born addicted and families coping with the addiction of a loved one."

Trump said she viewed the opportunity to talk to students at Liberty University — one of the world’s largest Christian universities – as important and coming at a critical stage of their lives as they make decisions on how they will manage the stress that comes with being an adult.

First lady Melania Trump speaking during a town-hall meeting on opioid addiction at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

“If you or someone you know needs help, you need to be brave enough to ask, or strong enough to stand with them as they fight through the disease. You need to be educated enough to know the signs of addiction and secure enough to talk about it and keep talking about it until help arrives,” Trump said.

The first lady then challenged students to think of the opioid crisis not as a set of statistics, but rather as a larger “human story” and as an opportunity to save lives.

MELANIA TRUMP UNVEILS BE BEST INITIATIVE TO HELP KIDS

Charis Gnanakan, a 20-year-old Liberty Univerity senior studying strategic communication, told Fox News she was moved by the first lady's assertion that the opioid crisis is part of a larger human story.

“I think she's right in her urge for everyone to be prepared to help those who are addicted,” said Joshua Smith, a 20-year-old accounting major.

First lady Melania Trump speaking at "Battling the Opioid Crisis" at Liberty University. (Fox News)

More than 13,000 students attended the event titled “Battling the Opioid Crisis.”

Political commentator, author and former Fox News host Eric Bolling, whose 19-year-old son Eric Chase Bolling died due to an accidental opioid overdose in 2017, moderated the panel after the first lady's speech. 

The panel included Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Liberty President Jerry Falwell and his wife, Becki Falwell.

TRUMP SIGNS BIPARTISAN OPIOID BILL AIMED AT CURBING NATIONAL CRISIS

Their overall message emphasized the need for more awareness on how opioid addictions start and the importance of extreme precaution when taking prescription narcotics.

“Most people becoming addicted to opioids today were first prescribed a legal painkiller," Azar said.

Students listening to a panel on "Battling the Opioid Crisis" at Liberty University. (Fox News)

Last month, President Trump signed a bipartisan bill into law that aimed at making medical treatment for opioid addiction more widely available while also cracking down on illicit drugs being sent through the mail.

Calli Thurlow, 19, a sophomore studying social work, said she appreciated political leaders finally speaking out on the health issue.

“Being in social work, you see families torn apart by the opioid crisis every day. People coming together on all sides to combat it is something really amazing to see for our country,” she said.

Liberty University students at first lady Melania Trump’s speech on the opioid crisis. (Fox News)

Students were encouraged via university social media to "make their voice heard" and email personal questions for the panel.

On how students could make a difference, Bolling encouraged them to talk to friends and family if they see someone slipping into addiction and to fight against promoting the stigma of shame that often comes with addiction.

“It was incredible to see the administration taking such active steps, both in awareness and financial support, to protect our communities," Kyler Beal, a digital media senior, said. 

Fox News’ Alex Hein contributed to this report.

Voters faced with hundreds of state referendums across the country

For many Americans, Election Day will involve more than just voting for representatives in Congress. Some 38 states this November will offer some form of direct democracy — generally speaking, the initiative and referendum system, under which citizens can vote for a specific rule, if enough registered voters have signed petitions to put the question on the ballot.

The idea has actually been around from the beginning — Georgia's constitution in 1777 allowed for initiatives. The modern initiative and referendum system began in Oregon in 1902, and has since been adopted, in one fashion or another, by numerous states.

Video

As common as it is, many are concerned about the system, feeling that citizens' votes are, in essence, being bought by the wealthy. One such citizen is David Trahan, a political activist and former state legislator in Maine. Formerly, he supported dozens of measures on the Maine ballot, but he has now changed his mind about referendums. He says he's seen how the money flows, and doesn't like it.

"They pour their money into a little state like Maine and these billionaires can buy a law," Trahen said. He believes outside groups with money deform a system that's supposed to be the direct voice of the people.

Good or bad, there's no denying a lot of hot button issues are being determined by initiative. For instance, this November:

Alabama, Oregon and West Virginia will vote on abortion rights.Idaho, Nebraska and Utah will vote on health care policies.Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Utah will vote on gerrymandering rules.

Other issues in which the voters will have their say include tax policy and energy policy. All in all, there will be over 160 ballot measures considered by various states.

Video

But, if people like Trahan are concerned the system has been hijacked by money, others see it as part of the rough and tumble of politics, not to mention a chance for the public to be heard.

There's Paul Jacob, for instance, who's a long-time supporter of the ballot measure process. He's worked on over 100 initiative and referendum campaigns across the country. As he puts it, "what better way …than to let the people vote directly on the issues at hand?"

CLICK FOR COMPLETE FOX NEWS MIDTERMS COVERAGE

Jacob admits money — sometimes outside money — comes into play, but adds that money is already part of politics, so better to give the power to the people and not just the politicians.

For Trahan, this won't do.

"Direct democracy," he maintains, "is Maine people passing laws that govern Maine people."

CRUZ COULD SEE MIDTERM BOOST FROM STRAIGHT-TICKET VOTING

Jacob believes that "people who don't like direct democracy don't want the people to be in charge."

Steve Kurtz is a producer for the Fox News Channel, and author of “Steve’s America (the perfect gift for people named Steve)”.

Voters faced with hundreds of state referendums across the country

For many Americans, Election Day will involve more than just voting for representatives in Congress. Some 38 states this November will offer some form of direct democracy — generally speaking, the initiative and referendum system, under which citizens can vote for a specific rule, if enough registered voters have signed petitions to put the question on the ballot.

The idea has actually been around from the beginning — Georgia's constitution in 1777 allowed for initiatives. The modern initiative and referendum system began in Oregon in 1902, and has since been adopted, in one fashion or another, by numerous states.

Video

As common as it is, many are concerned about the system, feeling that citizens' votes are, in essence, being bought by the wealthy. One such citizen is David Trahan, a political activist and former state legislator in Maine. Formerly, he supported dozens of measures on the Maine ballot, but he has now changed his mind about referendums. He says he's seen how the money flows, and doesn't like it.

"They pour their money into a little state like Maine and these billionaires can buy a law," Trahen said. He believes outside groups with money deform a system that's supposed to be the direct voice of the people.

Good or bad, there's no denying a lot of hot button issues are being determined by initiative. For instance, this November:

Alabama, Oregon and West Virginia will vote on abortion rights.Idaho, Nebraska and Utah will vote on health care policies.Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Utah will vote on gerrymandering rules.

Other issues in which the voters will have their say include tax policy and energy policy. All in all, there will be over 160 ballot measures considered by various states.

Video

But, if people like Trahan are concerned the system has been hijacked by money, others see it as part of the rough and tumble of politics, not to mention a chance for the public to be heard.

There's Paul Jacob, for instance, who's a long-time supporter of the ballot measure process. He's worked on over 100 initiative and referendum campaigns across the country. As he puts it, "what better way …than to let the people vote directly on the issues at hand?"

CLICK FOR COMPLETE FOX NEWS MIDTERMS COVERAGE

Jacob admits money — sometimes outside money — comes into play, but adds that money is already part of politics, so better to give the power to the people and not just the politicians.

For Trahan, this won't do.

"Direct democracy," he maintains, "is Maine people passing laws that govern Maine people."

CRUZ COULD SEE MIDTERM BOOST FROM STRAIGHT-TICKET VOTING

Jacob believes that "people who don't like direct democracy don't want the people to be in charge."

Steve Kurtz is a producer for the Fox News Channel, and author of “Steve’s America (the perfect gift for people named Steve)”.

Voters faced with hundreds of state referendums across the country

For many Americans, Election Day will involve more than just voting for representatives in Congress. Some 38 states this November will offer some form of direct democracy — generally speaking, the initiative and referendum system, under which citizens can vote for a specific rule, if enough registered voters have signed petitions to put the question on the ballot.

The idea has actually been around from the beginning — Georgia's constitution in 1777 allowed for initiatives. The modern initiative and referendum system began in Oregon in 1902, and has since been adopted, in one fashion or another, by numerous states.

Video

As common as it is, many are concerned about the system, feeling that citizens' votes are, in essence, being bought by the wealthy. One such citizen is David Trahan, a political activist and former state legislator in Maine. Formerly, he supported dozens of measures on the Maine ballot, but he has now changed his mind about referendums. He says he's seen how the money flows, and doesn't like it.

"They pour their money into a little state like Maine and these billionaires can buy a law," Trahen said. He believes outside groups with money deform a system that's supposed to be the direct voice of the people.

Good or bad, there's no denying a lot of hot button issues are being determined by initiative. For instance, this November:

Alabama, Oregon and West Virginia will vote on abortion rights.Idaho, Nebraska and Utah will vote on health care policies.Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Utah will vote on gerrymandering rules.

Other issues in which the voters will have their say include tax policy and energy policy. All in all, there will be over 160 ballot measures considered by various states.

Video

But, if people like Trahan are concerned the system has been hijacked by money, others see it as part of the rough and tumble of politics, not to mention a chance for the public to be heard.

There's Paul Jacob, for instance, who's a long-time supporter of the ballot measure process. He's worked on over 100 initiative and referendum campaigns across the country. As he puts it, "what better way …than to let the people vote directly on the issues at hand?"

CLICK FOR COMPLETE FOX NEWS MIDTERMS COVERAGE

Jacob admits money — sometimes outside money — comes into play, but adds that money is already part of politics, so better to give the power to the people and not just the politicians.

For Trahan, this won't do.

"Direct democracy," he maintains, "is Maine people passing laws that govern Maine people."

CRUZ COULD SEE MIDTERM BOOST FROM STRAIGHT-TICKET VOTING

Jacob believes that "people who don't like direct democracy don't want the people to be in charge."

Steve Kurtz is a producer for the Fox News Channel, and author of “Steve’s America (the perfect gift for people named Steve)”.