CHARLOTTESVILLE (AP) Jurors on Nov. 22 indicated they may be having trouble reaching a unanimous verdict on several allegations in the trial of white nationalists accused of conspiring to commit racially motivated violence at the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
The jury in U.S. District Court is being asked to decide whether white supremacists, neo-Nazis and white nationalist organizations are responsible for violence during two days of demonstrations. In addition to deciding whether the defendants are liable on six claims, jurors will also decide if the defendants are liable for compensatory and punitive damages for nine people who filed a federal lawsuit after they suffered physical or psychological injuries.
During the second day of deliberations Nov. 22, the jury asked Judge Norman Moon: “If we cannot come to a unanimous decision on the first three claims, do we still decide on Claims 4, 5 and 6?”
Moon told lawyers for the plaintiffs and the defendants that he would tell the jury to continue to try to come to a unanimous verdict. He also alluded to the Allen charge, a formal instruction given by judges to deadlocked juries to encourage jurors to continue deliberating until they reach a verdict. The instruction is often colloquially referred to as a “dynamite” charge. Moon said he thought it was too early to give the instruction to the jury.
Hundreds of white nationalists descended on Charlottesville on Aug. 11-12, 2017, ostensibly to protest the city’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
During a march on the University of Virginia grounds, white nationalists surrounded counterprotesters, shouted “Jews will not replace us!” and threw burning tiki torches at them. The next day, an avowed admirer of Adolf Hitler intentionally drove his car into a crowd, killing one woman and injuring 19.
James Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio, is serving life in prison for murder and hate crimes for the car attack. He is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs are relying in part on a 150-year-old law passed after the Civil War to shield freed slaves from violence and protect their civil rights. Commonly known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, the law contains a rarely used provision that allows private citizens to sue other citizens for civil rights violations.
During closing arguments, lawyers for the plaintiffs told jurors that the defendants “planned, executed and then celebrated” racially motivated violence that killed one counterprotester and injured dozens over the course of the two days.
The defendants used their closing arguments to distance themselves from Fields. Several defendants testified that they resorted to violence only after they or their associates were attacked. They’ve blamed the violence on anti-fascist protesters known as antifa as well as one another.
The lawsuit is being funded by Integrity First for America, a nonprofit civil rights organization.
DENISE LAVOIE, Associated Press