White supremacist James Alex Fields Jr sentenced to life in prison for Heather Heyer's murder in Charlottesville car killing
Update: 2:20 p.m. EST - White supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. apologized before being sentenced Friday. Fields Jr. was sentenced to life in prison for the car attack that killed Heather Heyer at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017.
While James Alex Fields Jr. has been widely described as a hateful young man who decided to kill a group of people protesting white nationalists, his lawyers think he deserves some leniency as he's a troubled 22-year-old with a history of mental illness. Fields Jr., who deliberately rammed his car into a crowd that had gathered to protest a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, will learn of his fate Friday when a federal judge is set to decide whether he should get life in prison or a sentence of something lesser, the Daily Mail reported. The Charlottesville incident stirred a racial debate across the country.
Fields Jr. pleaded guilty in March to 29 out of 30 federal hate crimes as part of a plea agreement that took a possible death sentence off the table. Both prosecutors and his lawyers, as part of the deal, agreed that federal sentencing guidelines called for a life sentence for his crimes. However, Fields Jr.'s lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Michael Urbanski in a sentencing memo last week to consider sentencing their client to a period "less than life."
"No amount of punishment imposed on James can repair the damage he caused to dozens of innocent people. But this Court should find that retribution has limits," Fields Jr.'s attorneys wrote. Fields Jr. has almost no hopes of getting out of prison considering he faces a separate sentence on state charges for murdering protester Heather Heyer and injuring more than 30 others in the incident. Fields Jr. was convicted of murder in state court in December. However, those charges are separate from the federal hate crime charges he is being sentenced for on Friday. While a jury has recommended life sentence plus 419 years, the official sentence hearing on state charges is scheduled for July 15.
However, there is little chance the judge will give Fields Jr. anything less than life, according to Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. "The bottom line is this is a historically significant act of violence that the government has an obligation to condemn through the strongest punishment possible, and I think the judge is very conscious of the facts and the significance surrounding this terrible case of domestic terrorism," Levin said.
On August 12, 2017, the "Unite the Right" rally attracted hundreds of white nationalists to Charlottesville to protest the scheduled removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Fields Jr. reportedly drove all the way from his home in Maumee, Ohio, to attend the event. Now, his lawyers are hoping the judge will consider his mental health issues and troubled childhood before handing down his final sentence.
A psychologist who testified during Fields Jr.'s state trial said he had inexplicable volatile outbursts as a child and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was six years old. Furthermore, he was later diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder. Prosecutors hit back saying Fields Jr. has a long history of racist and anti-Semitic behavior and has displayed no remorse for his crimes. According to them, he is a self-avowed white supremacist who worshipped Adolf Hitler and even kept a photo of him on his bedside table.
Meanwhile, Heyer's mother Susan Bro told the Associated Press she would like to see Fields Jr. locked up for the rest of his life. "I don't necessarily want to see him out and about again because I think it sends the wrong message," Bro said. "I'm hoping that justice is served, but I'm also hoping he can get some help."