James Fields Jr. Could Face Death Penalty from Charges Related to Aug. 12 Rally
The Ohio man accused of plowing into a crowd following Jason Eric Kessler’s Unite the Right rally now faces dozens of federal charges.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The Ohio man accused of plowing into a crowd following Jason Eric Kessler’s Unite the Right rally now faces dozens of federal charges.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday, June 27, that a grand jury had indicted 21-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. on a total of 30 charges: one count of a hate crime act resulting in the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, one count of racially motivated violent interference with a federally protected activity, and 28 counts of hate crime acts causing bodily injury and involving an attempt to kill.
Fields could face the death penalty if he is found guilty on the charge related to Heyer’s death.
U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen said Wednesday that the death penalty review is currently underway, and that the U.S. Attorney General will have the final say.
"We're hopeful that in indicting Mr. Fields today we're sending a strong message that racially motivated hate crimes and violent acts will not be tolerated in this district," says Cullen. "I think this community from a law enforcement perspective is well prepared to deal with that."
Though Fields already faces a first-degree murder charge in Charlottesville that's set to go to trial later this year, these new federal charges could offer much more severe punishments.
"People say 'why bother? Why have two sets of cases?'" says Lloyd Snook, NBC29's legal analyst. "The first reason is these charges involve a possible death sentence, the state charges do not involve a possible death sentence."
Heyer was taking part in a counter demonstration march in the area of 4th Street when she was fatally struck by a car on August 12, 2017. Twenty-eight other people also suffered injuries from what authorities believe was an intentional attack by Fields.
In court documents, prosecutors say Fields promoted violence against blacks and supported Nazi-era Germany on social media.
In a text message to family, worried about his safety, prosecutors say Fields replied, "We're not the ones who need to be careful," along with an image of Adolf Hitler.
Fields was seen taking part in Kessler’s rally at Emancipation Park with Vanguard America, a known racist, right-wing group.
The Ohio man is being represented by former Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Denise Lunsford. She has no comment on the federal charges.
Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, was in the courtroom when the new charges were announced Wednesday.
"This is my baby girl, and I always called her that, and she's still my baby girl after she's dead so I wanted to be here to hear what was happening," says Bro.
She called the whole situation a tragedy and she feels sympathetic for Fields' mother.
Bro said she is grateful the feds are recognizing the car attack as a hate crime and that that recognition will help the other 28 people injured move past the tragedy.
“I think a lot of them really need some justice and some vindication for what they were doing, and to acknowledge that a hate crime occurred acknowledges their pain, acknowledges what they’ve suffered,” said Bro.
When asked whether she would like to see Fields face the death penalty, Bro says she is unsure and grateful the decision is not up to her.
Lunsford is also representing Fields on the first-degree murder charge he faces in Charlottesville. That three-week trial is scheduled to being on November 26.
06/27/2018 Release from the U.S. Department of Justice:
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA – A federal grand jury sitting in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Charlottesville today charged an Ohio man with federal hate crimes, including a hate crime act that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer, for his actions during the Aug. 12, 2017 “Unite the Right rally” in Charlottesville. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, FBI Director Christopher Wray, Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division, United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen of the Western District of Virginia, and Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Division Adam S. Lee, made the announcement.
James Alex Fields Jr., 21, of Maumee, Ohio, was charged in an indictment returned earlier today with:
- one count of a hate crime act resulting in the death of Heather Heyer (18 U.S.C. § 249);
- 28 counts of hate crime acts causing bodily injury and involving an attempt to kill (18 U.S.C. § 249); and
- one count of racially motivated violent interference with a federally protected activity (18 U.S.C. § 245(b)(2)), resulting in the death of Heather Heyer, for driving his car into a crowd of protestors on a downtown street in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“At the Department of Justice, we remain resolute that hateful ideologies will not have the last word and that their adherents will not get away with violent crimes against those they target,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “Last summer’s violence in Charlottesville cut short a promising young life and shocked the nation. Today’s indictment should send a clear message to every would-be criminal in America that we aggressively prosecute violent crimes of hate that threaten the core principles of our nation. I want to thank the FBI as well as our fabulous prosecutors Stephen Curran, Christopher Kavanaugh, and Rachel Kincaid for their hard work on this case.”
“As this case indicates, our office will aggressively prosecute hate crimes and other civil-rights offenses committed because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any individual or group,” U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen stated “We are grateful to the FBI and our state and local law-enforcement colleagues who conducted the parallel federal and state investigations in a cooperative fashion, enabling us to vindicate this critical federal interest.”
"Hatred and violence have no place in our communities," said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The investigation of hate crimes is a top priority of the FBI, and we will continue to work with our partners to ensure those who perpetrate such despicable acts are held accountable.”
“The events of Aug. 12, 2017, in Charlottesville are a grim reminder of why the FBI prioritizes its investigations of civil rights violations among the top of its criminal programs. I hope today will also be a reminder to those who are motivated by hate and intent on committing violence; we are going to be there, just as we were in this case,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Adam S. Lee of the Richmond Division, who also oversees the office in Charlottesville. “I want to thank the Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s Office for their outstanding partnership, my team of FBI agents and analysts who worked tirelessly to put the case together, and the business owners and residents of Charlottesville who worked with us and provided a massive volume of evidence in this case.”
According to the indictment, on or before Aug. 8, 2017, Fields decided to attend the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Unite the Right rally was scheduled to occur on Aug. 12, 2017, at Emancipation Park and was widely publicized on social media and internet sites associated with white supremacist individuals and groups.
On the morning of Aug. 12, 2017, Fields arrived in and around the vicinity of Emancipation Park in Charlottesville. Multiple groups and individuals, including Fields, engaged in chants promoting or expressing white supremacist and other racist and anti-Semitic views. After an “unlawful assembly” was declared, rally participants, including Fields, dispersed the area. Fields returned to his vehicle and soon after drove to the vicinity of the intersection of Fourth and East Market streets in downtown Charlottesville.
As alleged in the indictment, Fields drove his car onto Fourth Street, a narrow, downhill, one-way street in downtown Charlottesville. At around the same time, a racially and ethnically diverse crowd of individuals was gathered at the bottom of the hill, at the intersection of Fourth and East Water streets. The indictment alleges that Fields slowly proceeded in his vehicle toward the crowd, stopped, and then observed the crowd while idling in his vehicle. Many of the individuals in the crowd were chanting and carrying signs promoting equality and protesting against racial and other forms of discrimination. With no vehicle behind him, Fields slowly reversed his vehicle to the top of the hill near the intersection of Fourth and Market streets. Fields then rapidly accelerated, ran through a stop sign and across a raised pedestrian mall, and drove directly into the crowd, striking numerous individuals, killing Heather Heyer, and injuring many others. Fields’s vehicle stopped only when it struck another vehicle near the intersection of Fourth and Water streets. He then rapidly reversed his vehicle and fled the scene.
The investigation of the case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen, Assistant United States Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh and Stephen Curran and Rachel Kincaid, trial attorneys with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, are prosecuting the case for the United States.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
06/27/2018 Release from Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Joseph Platania:
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - In a federal indictment returned earlier today, a grand jury charged James Alex Fields Jr. with one count of a hate crime act resulting in the death of Heather Heyer, 28 counts of hate crime acts causing bodily injury, and one count of racially motivated violent interference with a federally protected activity.
The Charlottesville Commonwealth Attorney’s Office has been continuously updated on the status of this ongoing federal investigation. It is important to note that today’s federal indictment has no effect on the state charges currently pending against Mr. Fields. A three week jury trial on the state charges is expected to begin in Charlottesville Circuit Court on Monday November 26, 2018.
Rule 3.6 of the Virginia State Bar's Rules of Professional Conduct states, in pertinent part: "A lawyer participating in or associated with the… prosecution … of a criminal matter that may be tried to a jury shall not make or participate in making an extrajudicial statement… that the lawyer knows, or should know, will have a substantial likelihood of interfering with the fairness of a trial by jury." As a result, the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Charlottesville will have no further comment at this time. Please bear in mind that neither state or federal indictments are evidence of guilt and that Mr. Fields is presumed to be innocent.