Fields Sentenced in Federal Court to Life in Prison
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The Ohio man responsible for a deadly car attack in Downtown Charlottesville in 2017 will spend the rest of his life in prison. The U.S. attorney in charge of the prosecution called what James Alex Fields Junior did a “hate-inspired act of domestic terrorism.”
"This was calculated. It was cold blooded. It was motivated by this deep-seeded racial animus that he had demonstrated throughout the course of his life," said U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen.
"He committed these atrocious acts of violence because of his white supremacist, racial bias. He harmed this whole community and he harmed our country," Assistant U.S. Attorney General Eric Dreiband said.
The 22-year-old appeared in a federal courtroom for sentencing early Friday, June 28. As a result of a deal with prosecutors in March, Fields entered guilty pleas to 29 charges: one count of a hate crime act that resulted in the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, and 28 counts of hate crime acts that caused bodily injury and involved an attempt to kill other people within the crowd marching in the area of 4th Street on August 12, 2017. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to not seek the death penalty.
The court heard testimony Friday from victims, FBI agents involved in the investigation, as well as went over videos from the car attack.
Agents executed a search warrant on Fields’ Ohio apartment at 6 a.m. August 13, 2017. They showed his bedroom, which had a Nazi flag on the wall, as well as a framed picture of Adolf Hitler and 'Mein Kampf' on a nightstand.
The judge also heard jailhouse phone calls between Fields and his mother. On August 27, 2018, he told her, “hope I can get that insanity thing.” Several months later, Fields referred to Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, as “the enemy.”
Agent Wade Douthit spoke to Fields social media history:
- Posted 30 images of Hitler between March 2017 and the deadly attack
- Multiple white supremacist postings, as well as racist remarks about black people
- Frequently used #hitlerwasright in postings
Federal investigators also interviewed classmates who said Fields had racist and pro-Nazi views.
More than a dozen victims took the witness stand Friday, including Heather’s father: “Even after everything we heard today, I want to publicly say I forgive him,” said Mark Heyer.
Victims recalled the moment they were injured, and how their injuries have affected their lives: Some lost their jobs, others lost their marriages, or relationships and friendships. Many stated that they wanted Fields to receive life in prison, while a few asked that he still be given the death penalty.
Susan Bro stated she was devastated by the loss of her daughter, and is often frozen into grief. She wanted Fields to get medication to help his mind, but doesn’t know if he can ever be trusted.
"Very happy he got life in prison across the board," said Bro at a press conference. "I did not want the death penalty blood on my hands. He probably deserved it, but it really wouldn't have accomplished anything. I apologize to the taxpayers for saddling you with this additional burden, but in the long run it was the judge's call."
Fields' legal team did not put on evidence Friday, but did ask for a sentence of less than life. The defense had asked the judge back in June to give Fields a shorter sentence due to his traumatic childhood and mental illnesses. Fields had previously told the court that he was being treated for bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, and ADHD.
The judge said Friday that it was clear Fields was fueled by hate and racism.
Fields still facing sentencing in Charlottesville Circuit Court in connection to the same violent incident. That is currently scheduled for July 15.
Fields will be back in federal court in the coming weeks to learn how much restitution he will have to pay to the victims.
06/28/2019 Release from the U.S. Department of Justice:
WASHINGTON – James Alex Fields Jr., 22, the Ohio man who drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters at the “Unite the Right" rally on August 12, 2017, killing one woman and injuring dozens, was sentenced today in the Western District of Virginia to life in prison for his crimes. Fields previously pleaded guilty to 29 violations of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, 18 U.S.C. § 249, for the attack.
“Hatred and bigotry have no place in our nation. Violent actions inspired by such warped thinking are a disgrace to our people and our values, and the Department of Justice will not tolerate such depraved acts,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband. “Prosecuting hate crimes and acts of domestic terrorism continues to be a top priority for the Department of Justice. Anyone who commits a crime motivated by hatred for the race, color, religion, national origin or other protected trait of any person should be on notice: the United States government will use its enormous power to bring perpetrators to justice, and we will continue to do so for as long as it takes to rid our nation of these vile and monstrous crimes.”
“On August 12, 2017, this defendant committed a hate-inspired act of domestic terrorism that killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injured over 30 peaceful protesters,” U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen stated. “We believe that his life sentence furthers the Department of Justice’s substantial interest in prosecuting hate crimes and protecting the civil rights of all Americans. We are grateful for the dedication and hard work of the FBI and the Virginia State Police in investigating this matter and bringing the defendant to justice.”
“Hate crimes are not just an attack on the victim: they are also meant to threaten and intimidate an entire community,” said Special Agent in Charge David Archey of the FBI’s Richmond Division. “This is also a case of domestic terrorism, and we must send a message that terrorism and hatred-inspired violence have no place in our communities. The FBI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to ensure Virginia’s citizens do not fall victim to violence because of hateful ideologies or intolerance of others. The FBI is grateful to the Office of the United States Attorney, the Virginia State Police, the Charlottesville Police Department, and to all the members of the public who assisted in this investigation.”
At his plea hearing on March 27, Fields admitted under oath that he drove into the crowd of counter-protesters because of the actual and perceived race, color, national origin, and religion of its members. He further admitted that his actions killed Heather Heyer, and that he intended to kill the other victims he struck and injured with his car in the crowd.
Fields also admitted that, prior to Aug. 12, 2017, he used social media accounts to express and promote white supremacist views; to express support for the social and racial policies of Adolf Hitler and Nazi-era Germany, including the Holocaust; and to espouse violence against African Americans, Jewish people, and members of other racial, ethnic, and religious groups he perceived to be non-white.
Fields further admitted that, on Aug. 12, 2017, he attended the “Unite the Right” rally in Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Virginia. That morning, multiple groups and individuals espousing white-supremacist ideology also attended the rally. These rally participants, including Fields, engaged in chants promoting or expressing white supremacist and other racist and anti-Semitic views.
Shortly before the scheduled start of the Unite the Right rally, law enforcement declared an “unlawful assembly” and required rally participants, including Fields, to disperse. Fields later returned to his vehicle and began to drive on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia.
Fields drove his car onto Fourth Street, a narrow, downhill, one-way street in downtown Charlottesville. At or around that same time, a racially and ethnically diverse crowd had gathered at the bottom of the hill, at the intersection of Fourth and Water Streets. Many of the individuals in the crowd were celebrating as they were chanting and carrying signs promoting equality and protesting against racial and other forms of discrimination. Fields slowly proceeded in his vehicle down Fourth Street toward the crowd. He then stopped and observed the crowd while idling in his vehicle. With no vehicle behind him, Fields then slowly reversed his vehicle toward the top of the hill and away from the crowd of counter-protestors.
At or around that same time, the members of the crowd began to walk up the hill, populating the streets and sidewalks between the buildings on Fourth Street. Having reversed his car to a point at or near the top of the hill and the intersection of Fourth and Market Streets, Fields stopped again. Fields admitted that he then rapidly accelerated forward down Fourth Street in his vehicle, running through a stop sign and across a raised pedestrian mall, and drove directly into the crowd. Fields’s vehicle stopped only when it struck another stopped vehicle near the intersection of Fourth and Water Streets. Fields then rapidly reversed his car and fled the scene. As Fields drove into and through the crowd, Fields struck numerous individuals, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of people nearby.
The investigation of the case was led by the FBI and was supported by the Charlottesville Police Department and the Virginia State Police. The case is being prosecuted by United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen, Assistant United States Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh, and Trial Attorney Risa Berkower of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
For more information about Department of Justice’s work to combat and prevent hate crimes, visit www.justice.gov/hatecrimes: a one-stop portal with links to Department of Justice hate crimes resources for law enforcement, media, researchers, victims, advocacy groups, and other organizations and individuals.