Mistrial declared for torch wielder at Charlottesville white nationalist rally

Trial was the first test of a Virginian law, inspired by Klu Klux Klan cross burnings, that makes it a felony to burn something to intimidate and cause fear of injury or death

Multiple white nationalist groups march with torches through the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 11, 2017. (Mykal McEldowney/The Indianapolis Star via AP)
Multiple white nationalist groups march with torches through the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 11, 2017. (Mykal McEldowney/The Indianapolis Star via AP)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — A Virginia judge declared a mistrial after jurors deadlocked on charges against a man accused of using a flaming torch to intimidate counter protesters during a 2017 gathering of white nationalists in Charlottesville.

The trial for Jacob Joseph Dix of Clarksville, Ohio, was the first test of a state law that makes it a felony to burn something to intimidate and cause fear of injury or death.

After deliberating for about 12 hours over two days, jurors in Albemarle County Circuit Court announced Thursday that they were deadlocked. Judge H. Thomas Padrick declared a mistrial Thursday evening.

Indictments unsealed last year showed 11 people had been charged with intimidation by fire, but prosecutors have not said whether additional defendants were also charged. Five people have pleaded guilty to the charge. Dix was the first to go on trial.

Legislators passed the 2002 law after the state Supreme Court ruled that a cross-burning statute used to prosecute Ku Klux Klan members was unconstitutional.

On Tuesday, prosecutors showed the jury videos of 300 to 400 white nationalists marching through the campus of the University of Virginia, carrying torches, shouting Nazi slogans and surrounding a much smaller group of anti-racist counter protesters, an event that ended in chaos and fighting between the two groups.

Jacob Joseph Dix arrives at the Albemarle County Circuit Court in Charlottesville, Va., Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Ryan M. Kelly)

Dix’s lawyer, Peter Frazier, told the jury nothing Dix did the night of Aug. 11, 2017, was criminal, and that the chants he joined in, including, “You will not replace us!” were free speech protected by the First Amendment.

Henrico County Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor, who was appointed as a special prosecutor, said she intends to try the case again and will see if there is any other evidence to pursue.

“We appreciated the enormous amount of time that the jury took to consider this case of first impression,” she said.

After the clash at the university, violence broke out the next day when a “Unite the Right” rally was planned. After police declared the gathering an unlawful assembly and the crowd began to disperse, James Alex Fields Jr., a white supremacist from Maumee, Ohio, intentionally rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring dozens. Fields is serving a life sentence for murder and hate crimes.

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