The man who drove a car into a group of people protesting the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 has been sentenced to life in prison by a federal court.
On Friday, nearly two years after his actions killed one woman, Heather Heyer, and injured more than two dozen others, 22-year-old James A. Fields Jr. was sentenced on 29 counts of committing federal hate crimes. Fields was indicted on the charges last year and agreed to plead guilty to them earlier in 2019. As part of the deal, prosecutors dropped one charge against him that carried a possible death sentence.
Fields’s sentence was announced after a Friday hearing that took several hours, according to the Washington Post. More than a dozen survivors and witnesses of the 2017 attack testified at the hearing, including Susan Bro, Heyer’s mother.
During her testimony, Bro called for Fields to spend life in prison, but said that she hoped he “can heal someday and help others heal,” according to the Associated Press.
Rosia Parker, who was standing near Heyer when she was struck, said that Fields “could have done anything else but what you did.”
“So, yeah, you deserve everything that you get,” she added.
As Vox’s Jane Coaston has reported, Fields traveled to Virginia for “Unite the Right,” a 2017 rally organized by alt-right and white supremacist groups. Organizers said they were protesting Charlottesville city officials’ plan to tear down Confederate monuments, including a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. After marching with the rally attendees, Fields returned to his car, which he then drove into a crowd of counterprotesters.
During the sentencing hearing, Fields’s lawyers asked for leniency, arguing that their client should not serve a life sentence due to his young age and a history of mental illness. The prosecution countered that due to the severe nature of his crime, a life sentence was warranted.
As the Post notes, Friday’s sentencing is just the first for Fields, who was convicted at the state level in 2018 on charges stemming from the attack. He was convicted on counts of first-degree murder, malicious wounding, and leaving the scene of a fatal crash; he will be sentenced in that case on July 15. In December, a Virginia jury recommended that he serve a life sentence plus 419 years.
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