The man who killed a woman and injured dozens of other people when he rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters in a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, two years ago will be sentenced Friday by a federal judge.
James Alex Fields Jr. pleaded guilty to 29 federal hate crimes in March as part of a plea agreement that eliminated the death penalty as a possible punishment.
He is to appear in US District Court for the Western District of Virginia, in Charlottesville, on Friday morning.
Prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum that life in prison is the only appropriate sentence.
Fields, in his memorandum, pleads for mercy and asks for a lesser sentence. Through his public defender, he says the court should not give him a life sentence because of his age, history of mental illness and childhood trauma, and to show that no one is defined by their worst moments.
Fields was 20 when he attended the August 2017 demonstrations in Charlottesville and joined white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other groups opposed to the city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. During a day of violent clashes in the city, Fields drove his vehicle into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal.
Fields also was convicted in state court of first-degree murder and other charges, and the jury recommended a sentence of life in prison. He is due to be sentenced in that case July 15, Commonwealth’s Attorney Joseph Platania said in March.
According to the federal indictment, Fields took to social media before the rally on August 12, 2017, and “expressed and promoted his belief that white people are superior to other races and peoples; expressed support of the social and racial policies of Adolf Hitler and Nazi-era Germany, including the Holocaust; and espoused violence against African Americans, Jewish people and members of other racial, ethnic and religious groups he perceived to be non-white.”
The day before the rally, as Fields prepared to leave his home in Maumee, Ohio, to travel to Charlottesville, he got a text from a family member urging him to be careful, the indictment says.
“We’re not the ones who need to be careful,” Fields responded, attaching a photo of Hitler, according to the indictment.
Once in Charlottesville, Fields joined protesters who had gathered to denounce the removal of a Confederate statue from a city park in “chants promoting or expressing white supremacist and other racist and anti-Semitic views,” the indictment says.
Later, as Fields drove along the streets of Charlottesville in his Dodge Challenger, he encountered a crowd of racially and ethnically diverse people chanting and carrying signs promoting equality, the indictment says.
“Fields rapidly accelerated, through a stop sign and across a raised pedestrian mall, and drove directly into the crowd. Fields’s vehicle stopped only when it struck another vehicle near the intersection of Fourth and Water Streets. Fields then rapidly reversed his car and fled the scene,” according to the indictment.
According to the indictment on the hate crime charges, many of the individuals gathered in the street when Fields mowed them down “were chanting and carrying signs promoting equality and protesting against racial and other forms of discrimination.”