Charlottesville Jury Recommends 419 Years Plus Life For Neo-Nazi Who Killed Protester

Dec 11, 2018
Originally published on December 11, 2018 6:27 pm

The 21-year-old avowed neo-Nazi who murdered a woman when he plowed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters last year at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

A jury in Charlottesville said Tuesday that James Alex Fields Jr. should be sentenced to life plus 419 years in prison and $480,000 in fines, for killing Heather Heyer and seriously injuring 35 others.

Judge Richard Moore will decide whether to sign off on the recommended sentence at a hearing on March 29.

The life sentence was in response to Fields' first-degree murder conviction. The jury arrived at 419 additional years, The Associated Press reports, by recommending "70 years for each of five malicious wounding charges, 20 for each of three malicious wounding charges, and nine years on one charge of leaving the scene of an accident."

A day earlier, jurors heard emotional testimony from Heyer's mother, Susan Bro, and from several victims struck by Fields on Aug. 12, 2017, during the Unite the Right rally that weekend.

Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed during the Unite the Right rally in August 2017, looks over memorabilia in her office in Charlottesville, Va., a year later.
Steve Helber / AP

"Heather was full of love, justice and fairness," Bro said, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "Mr. Fields tried to silence her. ... I refuse to let him."

Bro also told the jury that she does not hate Fields for killing her daughter, a loss she described as an "explosion" that has blown up her family.

Meanwhile, Fields' attorneys asked the jury to consider their client's mental state on the day of the murder. A psychologist "testified that Fields was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizoid personality disorder at the ages of 6 and 14, respectively," the Times-Dispatch reported.

Fields was convicted last week of first-degree murder along with several counts of aggravated malicious wounding, malicious wounding and leaving the scene of an accident. Defense lawyers had argued that he acted in self-defense.

Fields also faces federal hate crime charges, which allow for the death penalty.

Reporter Whittney Evans of member station WCVE contributed to this story.

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A Virginian jury has recommended life in prison plus 419 years for James Alex Fields Jr. He's the man who drove his car into a crowd of people last year in Charlottesville who had been protesting against white nationalism. Fields killed one woman, Heather Heyer, and injured dozens more. He was convicted Friday of first-degree murder among other charges. Whittney Evans of member station WCVE has the latest.

WHITTNEY EVANS, BYLINE: In August of last year, Fields drove 8 1/2 hours from his hometown of Maumee, Ohio, to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. That rally was called to protest the planned removal of Confederate statues. It drew both far-right activists who espouse white supremacist views and counter-protesters who rallied against what they saw as blatant racism. Included in that group was Heather Heyer. Fields was photographed marching with members of the neo-Nazi group Vanguard America. Prosecuting Attorney Joe Platania said the trial and sentence are a long time coming for victims and their families.


JOE PLATANIA: We are unable to heal their physical injuries or bring Heather back, but we are hopeful that they're able to take some measure of comfort and solace from these convictions and sentences.

EVANS: Susan Bro is Heather Heyer's mother.


SUSAN BRO: I don't hate him, but my God, the kid's messed up. He needs help. Put him away. I'm sorry. He should not be out to society, and I think the jury could see that. He destroyed more than just my family. He destroyed his family as well.

EVANS: Both sides in the case agreed during the two-week-long trial that Fields was behind the wheel of his Dodge Challenger when it barreled down a narrow city street at 28 miles per hour toward the crowd. Prosecutors called his actions premeditated, saying they were fueled by his extreme political and racist beliefs. The defense, though, argued the 21-year-old was frightened and panicked after a tense afternoon of violent clashes between protesters on opposite sides.

A forensic expert testified yesterday that James Fields did not meet the legal definition of insanity, though he did suffer from a lifelong battle with bipolar disorder. A judge will accept or reject the jury's recommendation at a sentencing hearing next March. Separately, Fields has been indicted on numerous federal hate crime charges. If found guilty, those could result in a death sentence. For NPR News, I'm Whittney Evans in Charlottesville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.