What we learned from Charlottesville’s white supremacist rally trial

HARRY SMITH, CNN • Updated 20th June 2016 ( CNN ) — We’re still months away from jury selection, and there have been no convictions for Charlottesville’s white nationalist rally violence. But the court…

What we learned from Charlottesville's white supremacist rally trial

HARRY SMITH, CNN • Updated 20th June 2016

( CNN ) — We’re still months away from jury selection, and there have been no convictions for Charlottesville’s white nationalist rally violence.

But the court proceedings have already provided some long-awaited answers.

Among them:

Why the rally happened in the first place

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We were all skeptical of the white nationalists’ pre-planned rally when we first saw them on the square in downtown Charlottesville last year.

They staked out the space for months, planning to demonstrate against plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from the space. But what made the event more than a typical political protest was the appearance of car violence that evening.

When a car slammed into a crowd of protesters, it struck a mother and children — killing her. It further riled up the crowd, prompting more violence. By the end of the rally, a police officer was in a helicopter crash, and several people were arrested.

Then last week, a grand jury indicted a total of 12 people, eight men and two women, in connection with the violence that night.

What happened that night

Courtesy Charlottesville Police Department

We’ve heard a lot about this:

The victim was 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who was standing outside of a restaurant. Two neo-Nazis, the driver of the car and two other protesters were in that crowded area.

We’ve heard arguments about what caused the driver to veer into the crowd. But it was a video of the incident that’s going viral, showing Heyer being struck from behind by the car.

What will happen to the accused

Courtesy Charlottesville Police Department

A number of cars were described in court as containing weapons and assault rifles. So it may come as no surprise that one of the accused — former Ku Klux Klan leader James Alex Fields Jr. — pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The two alleged car-attack drivers — Joey Gibson, a leader of the anti-racist “Unite the Right” rally, and Richard Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute — denied charges of first-degree murder and malicious wounding.

Charges of unlawful wounding for the woman hit by the car, who was left with brain damage, will be considered separately.

What the trial will reveal

One thing we learned when the preliminary hearing was underway: Pauline Price, the mother of the 15-year-old victim, could not attend the hearing.

“This is really a little bit of a tragedy, not just for me but for my daughter as well,” Price said at a prior hearing. “She’s wondering when all of these charges will be dropped.”

Judge Richard Moore dismissed the case after authorities identified a child victim and pleaded guilty in the case of the other mother who couldn’t attend.

Though the outcome will still be closely watched, a verdict could also set a significant precedent.

Could the case help the upcoming trial of Robert McEwen, the driver accused of driving the car, and Thomas Yeager, the man who allegedly was driving it? That would be largely up to a jury. The Supreme Court said prosecutors must prove that even if one person planned and organized the violence, it happened because of a lack of warning from the others involved.

We’ll have to wait a while to learn more.

Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty, but potentially other sentences could be recommended by the judge during sentencing.

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