Jury finds Unite the Right defendants liable for more than $26 million in damages
A federal jury in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Tuesday could not reach a verdict on claims one and two in the Unite the Right civil trial.
Claim one was the most prominent claim against the defendants in the civil lawsuit because it pertains to whether the defendants conspired to commit racially motivated violence.
The jury could also not reach a verdict on claim two, which pertains to whether the defendants had knowledge of a conspiracy for racially motivated violence and failed to prevent it.
The jury finds all defendants violated a Virginia state conspiracy law.
The jury awarded the plaintiffs $11 million in punitive damages on the third conspiracy claim.
Each of the individual defendants, including Jason Kessler, Richard Spencer, Christopher Cantwell and Matthew Heimbach, are liable for $500,000 each.
The five organizations are liable for $1 million each.
The jury awarded only $7 to the plaintiffs in compensatory damages.
A jury has found five defendants liable for violating a state law prohibiting racial, religious or ethnic harassment or violence.
The jury also awarded $500,000 in compensatory damages to two plaintiffs, Natalie Romero and Devin Willis.
Defendants Jason Kessler, Richard Spencer, Elliott Kline, Robert “Azzmador” Ray and Christopher Cantwell are liable for $200,000 each in punitive damages.
In the same claim, the jury found James Alex Fields Jr. liable, but did not award any compensatory damages. Fields, who sped his car into a crowd of protesters, killing one person and injuring dozens, is not responsible for punitive damages.
Fields is currently serving multiple life sentences in prison.
The jury found James Alex Fields Jr. liable for assault or battery.
It awarded $803,277 in compensatory damages to five plaintiffs and $6 million in punitive damages.
The jury found James Alex Fields Jr. liable for intentionally inflicting emotional distress against six plaintiffs.
It awarded $701,459 in compensatory and $6 million in punitive damages.
[Previous story, published at 2:13 p.m. ET]
The jury in the civil case involving White nationalists who organized a two-day rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, asked for clarification Tuesday on a part of the verdict form that pertains to the lawsuit’s conspiracy claims.
The federal jury asked whether it can separate the punitive amount awarded to individual plaintiffs in claim three. The jury did not mention claims one or two.
Claim three on the verdict form pertains to Virginia civil conspiracy law. The form asks jurors to list the punitive damage amounts, if any, that should be awarded against each defendant, rather than the amounts that should be awarded to specific plaintiffs.
US District Judge Norman Moon answered the jury by saying that they couldn’t separate the punitive amount awarded to individual plaintiffs in claim three, and that only those plaintiffs being awarded compensatory damages could be awarded punitive damages.
This was the fifth question asked by the jury since it began deliberating last Friday.
On Monday, the 12-member panel asked Moon whether they need to be unanimous on each of the final three counts if they cannot reach a unanimous decision on the first three counts.
Two of the counts — five and six — are related just to actions by James Alex Fields Jr., who sped his car into a crowd of protesters, killing one person and injuring dozens. The other involves a statute on racial, religious or ethnic harassment or violence.
Without the jury present, the judge said, “I don’t know why there’s any misunderstanding about that. I think I’m going to tell them they must continue to try to reach a unanimous decision on all six counts.”
The jury will decide in each count whether each defendant is liable for damages. In a civil trial, plaintiffs’ attorneys have to show a defendant is liable by a “preponderance of evidence,” Moon told jurors, meaning 50.1% or greater chance of the claim is true.
Planned removal of statue sparked the rally
Twelve people and five White supremacist and nationalist organizations were listed as defendants in the civil lawsuit.
The plaintiffs, who include town residents and counterprotesters injured in clashes, are seeking compensatory and statutory damages for the physical and emotional injuries they suffered due to the violence at the rally. They also contend rally organizers engaged in a conspiracy and planned the violence to ignite a race and religious war.
Defense attorneys and two high-profile defendants who are representing themselves argued none of the plaintiffs had proven the defendants had organized racial violence.
To succeed on the primary conspiracy claim, the plaintiffs must prove the existence of a conspiracy involving two or more people, according to instructions given to the jurors.
Also, plaintiffs must prove the conspiracy was partially motivated by “animus” toward Black or Jewish people or because the plaintiffs supported those communities and that such conspiracy aimed to deprive them of their right to be free from racially motivated violence, the jury instructions say.
Finally, the plaintiffs must prove at least one person in the conspiracy “took an overt act” in continuing the racial violence and the plaintiffs were injured because of that act, according to the instructions.
The plaintiffs who were hit by Fields’ car are seeking $7 million to $10 million in compensatory damages while others are asking for $3 million to $5 million, according to Roberta Kaplan, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys say defendants were looking to fight
A large team of powerful lawyers under the umbrella of the nonprofit Integrity First for America are representing the plaintiffs in their civil case.
In closing arguments, attorneys representing the plaintiffs told the jury that the defendants prepared for the “Battle of Charlottesville” and messages sent between them and their actions after the violence were proof of a conspiracy.
The lawyers showed texts, messages on the online platform called Discord, and even Facebook Messenger, to show how organizers not only wanted counterprotesters, who they referred to as antifa or communists, to show up, but they were looking forward to a brawl. Organizers wanted the fight so much, they even tried trolling counter-demonstrators in hopes they would throw the first punch, the attorneys said.
Defense says no proof of conspiracy
Defense attorneys and two high-profile defendants who are representing themselves countered that none of the plaintiffs had proven the defendants had organized racial violence.
“Plaintiffs have to prove an agreement. An agreement isn’t a virus that can be passed around at a rally,” said attorney Bryan Jones, who represents three defendants.
The defendants have spent the entire trial making the argument that not only do they not know each other, but that they were just taking security measures in case they were attacked antifa. Defendants also made the claim that their hate speech is nothing more than off-color jokes that shouldn’t be taken seriously.
CNN’s Mark Morales reported from Charlottesville and Steve Almasy reported and wrote in Atlanta. CNN’s Aya Elamroussi and Amir Vera contributed to this report.