James Fields Sentenced In Federal Court

 

 

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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.

 

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James Fields Sentenced For Unite the Right Killing

 

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James A. Fields Jr., the neo-Nazi who rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters at the Unite The Right rally on August 12, 2017, has been sentenced to life for first-degree murder; 70 years for each of five counts of aggravated malicious wounding; 20 years for each of three counts of malicious wounding; and nine years for leaving the scene of a fatal crash.  The jurors were instructed that the sentences would be “presumed to be consecutive” unless they recommended that the terms be served simultaneously. Fields’s overall sentence: life plus 419 years and $480,000 in fines.

The jury of seven women and five men convicted Fields of the 10 offenses in a Charlottesville Circuit Court.  In Virginia, trial juries determine what penalties should be handed out within sentencing ranges dictated by law.  Judge Richard E. Moore, who said he will formally sentence Fields on March 29th, can impose a lesser punishment than the jurors called for but is not allowed to increase the sentences.

During the trial, Fields psychiatric disorders dating to early childhood were detailed in court by a mental-health expert.  Psychologist Daniel Murrie testified that Fields was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 6 and has been prone to angry, sometimes violent outbursts since before he could walk and was “expelled from preschool” because of his volatile behavior.  As an adolescent, he was found to have schizoid personality disorder and was housed in psychiatric facilities for three stretches before his 15th birthday.

Murrie testified that Fields did not meet Virginia’s legal definition for not guilty by reason of insanity.  To be acquitted on the basis of insanity, a defendant must show that he did not understand the difference between right and wrong at the time of the offense or was mentally unable to control his actions.  Fields did not deny that he intentionally accelerated his Dodge Challenger into a group of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.  His lawyers contended that he was afraid for his safety and acted to protect himself but jurors rejected that argument and issued 10 guilty verdicts.

Several of the injured victims, testified at Fields’s trial and sentencing hearing, described lasting physical wounds, psychological anguish and dire financial distress.  They described their injuries including shattered bones and debilitating nerve damage that they may never fully recover from.  They spoke of nightmares, social isolation caused by post-traumatic stress disorder and crushing medical bills from surgeries that have depleted their insurance and could burden them far into the future.

Fields faces a separate federal trial for alleged hate crimes related to the incident, including one offense that carries a possible death sentence. No trial date has been set and the Justice Department has not said whether it will seek capital punishment.

James Fields Murder Trial Begins

 

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The trial has begun for James Fields, the self-described neo-Nazi charged with killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 35 others at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.  Twenty-one-year-old Fields is standing trial for first-degree murder, five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, three counts of malicious wounding and failure to stop at the scene of a fatal accident in connection with a car attack on Aug. 12, 2017.  He has entered a not guilty plea and faces 20 years to life in prison if convicted of first degree murder.

Fields is accused of ramming his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.  Video of the incident shows Field’s Dodge Challenger stopping a short distance from those marching in the area reversing, but then accelerating forward into them.  Witnesses say Fields slowly backed up his car in a downtown street then rapidly accelerated, ran through a stop sign and across a raised pedestrian mall, and drove directly into the crowd, hitting numerous individuals including Heather Heyer before ramming into a sedan.  The impact sent people flying through the air.  A few seconds after the initial impact, Fields drove in reverse at a high rate of speed for several blocks- hitting more people.  Pedestrians who had avoided the attack chased Fields along Fourth Street until he turned left and sped off down Market Street.

A Virginia State Police Bell 407 helicopter followed the car and relayed its route to ground units.  A deputy stopped and arrested Fields about a mile from the attack.  Charlottesville Police Det. Steven Young, who arrived at the scene of Field’s arrest, testified that Fields appeared  shocked and repeatedly apologized while sobbing when he was told a woman had been killed.  Young said that the Dodge had holes in the rear window—made by counter-protesters after the initial impact and heavy front-end damage. Young said that the car was “splattered” with blood and flesh with a pair of blue sunglasses stuck in the spoiler on the car’s trunk.   Young also testified that footage from the Unite the Right rally earlier in the day shows Fields chanting homophobic and anti-Semitic slurs as he marched with others.  A short time later, the helicopter footage shows his car driving into the crowd.

Testimony in the trial has largely featured first-hand accounts from people who were injured by the car attack on Fourth Street, by the intersection with Water Street.  Survivors of the deadly crash testified that the mood among counter-protesters was upbeat and celebratory before Fields slammed his Dodge Challenger into another car, triggering a chain reaction that hurled people in different directions.   Witnesses recounted the chaotic scene and testified to a litany of injuries they suffered in the crash, some of which they are still recovering from.

Ryan Kelly, a photojournalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for a photo he took that captured the moment Field’s car made impact with the crowd, also testified in the trial.  He testified that he saw the Challenger slowly backing up the hill. “I thought it was trying to get out of the way,” Kelly testified.  Then, he said he heard tires screech and saw the car speed past him on 4th Street.  “I saw the car accelerate the whole way into the protestors,” he said. “It was going fast into the crowd.”  Survivor and witness Star Peterson is also expected to testify in the trial.  Her right leg was crushed by Fields’ car resulting in her having five surgeries.  She still uses a wheelchair and cane.

Separately, a Virginia grand jury has charged Fields with 30 federal hate crime charges, some of which could result in the death penalty.  He has pled not guilty in those charges as well and no trial date has been set.