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Driver sobbed after learning he killed woman at Virginia rally

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Reuters) - The white nationalist who drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters at a Virginia rally last year began sobbing and whimpering after his arrest when police told him he had killed someone, according to video played at his trial on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Rescue workers assist people who were injured when a car drove through a group of counter protestors at the "Unite the Right" rally Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Within minutes of the mayhem at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017, James Fields could be heard on footage recorded by a detective’s body-worn camera saying he acted in self-defense.

“I didn’t want to hurt people, but I thought they were attacking me,” Fields told the police, according to the video footage played to the jury, who will soon vote on whether to convict Fields on 10 charges, including murder.

After police arrested him, Fields, 21, asked at the police station about the extent of the injuries he caused.

“There were people with injuries, one had passed away,” a detective tells Fields, according to video footage from the police station.

Fields is then heard sobbing, whimpering and gasping for breath.

Steven Young, the lead detective on the case, testified that it took about two minutes to calm him down. “Mr. Fields appeared to be in a panic,” Young told the court.

Fields was one of hundreds of white nationalists who descended on Charlottesville last year to protest the planned removal of a statue honoring the U.S. Civil War-era Confederacy from a public park. At a rally the night before the incident, protesters carried torches and chanted anti-Semitic slogans.

Heather Heyer was killed after Fields drove his car into her and other counterprotesters, badly injuring others.

On Tuesday, Judge Richard Moore allowed prosecutors to show the jury a cellphone text message exchange between Fields and his mother the day before Fields traveled to Charlottesville.

“I got the weekend off,” Fields wrote to his mother. “I’ll be able to go to the rally.”

“Be careful,” his mother replied.

“We’re not the one who need to be careful,” Field wrote. He also attached an image of Adolf Hitler.

Moore told the jury they would have to weigh whether the exchange and the image of the Nazi leader showed that Fields had premeditated intent.

Attorneys for Fields called Paul Critzer, a Charlottesville Sheriff’s Department deputy, along with three other law enforcement officers, to the stand on Tuesday afternoon.

Critzer testified that he talked to Fields after stopping his Dodge Charger and telling him to throw his keys out of the window.

“He seemed calm in tone. He said, ‘I’m so sorry,’” Critzer said, adding that Fields bolted away from him after initially putting his hands out of the window of his car as if he was going to surrender.

The judge said the defense will call seven or eight witnesses on Wednesday and one witness on Thursday. The jury may get the case on Thursday, he said.

Writing by Jonathan Allen; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler