CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVEC) -- The Ohio man accused of ramming a car into a crowd of people protesting a white nationalist rally this summer in Charlottesville has had his most serious charge upgraded to first-degree murder.
Twenty-year-old James Alex Fields appeared in court Thursday for a preliminary hearing. Prosecutors said they filed a motion earlier in the day to amend the second-degree murder charge he previously faced.
The judge certified the murder charge and all others against Fields. His case will now be presented to a grand jury for an indictment.
The judge also certified charges against three other defendants in cases related to the August rally.
Fields' attorney did not present evidence or make any arguments at the hearing, although she did cross-examine a prosecution witness. Fields sat quietly in a striped jumpsuit with his hands cuffed.
Authorities say Fields barreled into the crowd Aug. 12 after attendees of a white nationalist rally had been forced to disband.
City officials in Charlottesville, Virginia closed down downtown streets Thursday in anticipation of scheduled court hearings for four people charged in relation to the violent "Unite the Right" rally that took place in August.
Three other men who appeared in court Thursday are charged with discharging a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school, malicious wounding and felony assault on the day of the rally, according to court records.
On Aug. 12, a group of white nationalists, which included neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members, descended onto Charlottesville for a rally spurred by the city's plans to remove a Confederate statue from a downtown park. Violence broke out as counterprotesters clashed with white nationalists, prompting Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to declare a state of emergency.
Amid the chaos, Fields allegedly drove a silver Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counterprotesters and Charlottesville residents, tossing people into the air and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
He was initially charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, three counts of aggravated malicious wounding, two charges of felonious assault and failure to stop that led to death, court records show.