After 16 months of anguish, Susan Bro finally confronted her daughter’s killer in a Virginia courtroom on Monday.
“Some days I can’t do anything but sit and cry as the grief overtakes me,” she said.
Bro tearfully read her victim impact statement during the sentencing phase of James Fields’ murder trial.
Fields, 21, was attending last year’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville when counterprotesters demonstrated against the white nationalists. That afternoon, Fields got in his Dodge Challenger and plowed into the counterprotesters at about 28 mph, killing Bro’s daughter, 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
The jury found Fields guilty Friday of first-degree murder, a crime punishable by up to life in prison. Fields was also found guilty of eight counts of malicious wounding and one count of failing to stop at an accident involving a death.
Jurors, who deliberated for more than an hour an a half on Monday, are now tasked with recommending a punishment to the judge. Ultimately, Judge Richard Moore will decide Fields’ sentence, but will consider the jury’s recommendation.
The jury heard impact statements from Bro and three surviving victims of the attack.
Bro said Heyer’s death “was like an explosion” to the young woman’s friends and family.
“Almost all members of the family have been in… therapy, to push back the darkness,” Bro said. “My world exploded, and I can’t go back to the way it was.”
At one point, Bro struggled to read her statement.
“I’m sorry, I just have a little bit of trouble seeing through the tears,” she said.
Bro detailed the fatal injuries suffered by her daughter.
“Heather had contusions to her chest, the result of that was her aorta was severed.” she said. “She bled out internally in just a few seconds.”
Attack survivor: ‘I have had pain that words cannot describe’
The pain coursing through Jeanne “Star” Peterson’s body is a daily reminder of Fields’ attack.
“James Fields knocked me over and then ran over my leg,” Peterson said during her victim’s impact statement Monday.
“The metal holding my leg together has harbored one infection after the other.”
Peterson lifted herself out of her wheelchair with her arms to get on the witness stand. There, she recalled seeing Heyer shortly before her death.
“I saw Heather fly through the air the moment I was struck,” Peterson said. “All I could see was what was directly on top of me.”
She said the nerve pain she suffered from the attack felt as if someone was continuously pulling her hair out.
“The past 16 months have been a nightmare,” Peterson said. “I have had pain that words cannot describe.”
She said her 7-year-old boy doesn’t want to go out in public with her anymore because he thinks bad people might attack.
Peterson has no good explanation about why anyone would want to attack the way Fields did.
“I can’t answer why someone would do this on purpose,” she said.
A philanthropic life cut short
Heyer, a paralegal, was devoted to helping people and had a passion for justice, her family said.
Heyer’s co-worker Marissa Blair said her friend fought against bigotry.
“If you knew Heather, you would know that she loves everyone and all she wants is equality for everyone, no matter who you love, no matter what color you are,” Blair said.
It’s not clear when the judge will formally sentence Fields for the murder of Heyer.
Jury deliberation is scheduled to resume on Tuesday.
In addition to the state charges, Fields also faces 30 federal hate crimes charges. The next step in his federal case is a status conference on January 31.