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Photographer heard 'thuds, screams and cries' as neo-Nazi ploughed into crowd, US court hears

James Fields (21) is accused of the first degree murder of Heather Heyer.

File photo of a car driving into protesters last year.
File photo of a car driving into protesters last year.
Image: Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress

A PHOTOGRAPHER HAS testified that he heard “thuds and screams and cries” as an American neo-Nazi rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters at a white supremacist rally last year in Charlottesville, Virginia, in the United States.

Called to the witness stand on the second day of the murder trial of James Fields, Ryan Kelly recounted in vivid detail the moments when Fields’ Dodge Challenger plowed into the crowd, killing Heather Heyer.

Fields (21) is accused of first degree murder in the 32-year-old paralegal’s death as well as hit-and-run charges and eight counts of causing serious injury.

Kelly, who now does publicity shots for a brewery, was on his last day at work for local newspaper The Daily Progress and won a Putlizer prize for a photograph showing one of the counter-protesters launched flailing into the air.

Hundreds of people had descended on Charlottesville on the day of Heyer’s death, August 12, 2017, either to march in or rail against a “Unite the Right” rally.

But city authorities declared the protest unlawful, and the white supremacists had been asked to clear out.

Kelly followed a group of counter-protesters who “were chanting and singing and it was almost a celebratory mood.”

He started to make his way up 4th street, a hilly road leading to a downtown pedestrian area.

At that point, he said: “I heard a car, screeching tires, the rev of an engine and it sped right past me.

“People went flying, you heard thuds and screams and cries.”

The car was going “faster than anything I’ve ever seen on that street. It was going fast and directly at the crowd.”

The court also heard from other witnesses.

Jeanne “Star” Peterson, whose right leg was crushed in the attack, limped to the witness stand with the assistance of a bailiff.

At the moment the car hit, said Peterson: “I saw Heather Heyer up in the air and remembering thinking to myself ‘That’s what someone’s eyes look like when they are dead.’”

“Then I remember feeling the bumps and thinking ‘I need to get out of here in case they come back.

“And it’s then I realized ‘My legs are not working.’”

She was left wheelchair-bound for more than a year.

The violence capped two days of confrontations over the removal of a Confederate statue that shook the country and became a symbol of the growing audacity of the far right under President Donald Trump.

© AFP 2018

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