James Fields, the self-described neo-Nazi who killed activist Heather Heyer at an anti-hate rally in 2017, was sentenced to life in prison. Fields plowed his car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville at a counter-protest of the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally. Lawyers for Fields, 22, had pleaded for mercy, citing his difficult childhood and mental health problems. “I’d like to apologize,” Mr. Fields told the judge before his sentencing Friday, according to one of his lawyers. “I apologize to my mother for putting her through all of this. Every day I think about my actions and how this could have gone differently. I’m sorry.”
Mr. Fields had previously admitted he intentionally targeted the counter-protesters. The sentencing came nearly two years after Fields’ attack killed Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal who was demonstrating against the hundreds of white nationalists who took to the streets that day. Susan Bro, Heyer’s mother, asked for a life sentence but said she hoped Mr. Fields “can heal someday and help others heal.”
Fields was among hundreds of white supremacists who swarmed Charlottesville in August 2017 for the rally, in which they shouted anti-Semitic phrases, marched with tiki torches and attacked a racially diverse group of counter-protesters. The rally appeared to be winding down when Mr. Fields drove his car into a crowd of those counter-protesters. Fields’s lawyers had asked the judge for a sentence that would allow him to eventually be released from prison. Mr. Fields had been trying to leave the rally to return home to Ohio, his lawyers said, but found the street blocked by counter-protesters and made the split-second decision to drive through them. The incident followed violent clashes that erupted at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Attorneys for Fields had asked the federal authorities to be more lenient than jurors in his state-court murder trial had been late last year when he was sentenced to life plus 419 years. Mr. Fields pleaded guilty to 29 federal charges earlier this year, including a hate crime for Ms. Heyer’s death. Federal prosecutors dropped another charge that could have led to the death penalty. Prosecutors had argued that Mr. Fields’s racist, anti-Semitic beliefs motivated his decision to attend the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville and to attack counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of others.
“This was calculated, it was coldblooded, it was motivated by this deep-seated racial animus,” Thomas T. Cullen, the United States attorney for the Western District of Virginia, said after the sentence was announced. He said the case set a precedent for future instances of domestic terrorism. The incident was immortalized in a photo that shows Mr. Fields’ car ramming into the crowd and those hit flying into the air. In addition to killing Ms. Heyer, the attack hurt more than 30 people, whose injuries ranged from fractured skulls to damaged organs to broken arms, Mr. Cullen said Friday.