A white nationalist who drove his car into a crowd protesting a white supremacist rally in Virginia last year could be sentenced as early as Tuesday to life in prison for murdering one of the people he struck.
A jury in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Friday found James Fields, 21, of Ohio, guilty of first-degree murder and nine other crimes in the killing of Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring of 19 other people after police had declared an unlawful assembly and cleared a city park of white supremacists gathered for the “Unite the Right” rally.
Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, provided tearful testimony on Monday that Fields “tried to silence” her daughter but that Heyer’s message of tolerance would live on, according to local media.
Defense attorneys never disputed that Fields was behind the wheel of a Dodge Charger that sent bodies flying when it crashed into a crowd on Aug. 12, 2017. They instead suggested during the two-week trial that Fields felt intimidated by a hostile crowd and acted to protect himself.
The same jury that found Fields guilty is now hearing a fresh round of witness testimony before making its sentencing recommendation in Charlottesville Circuit Court.
The car-ramming capped a day of tension and physical clashes between hundreds of white supremacists and neo-Nazis and groups of opposing demonstrators. The white supremacists and neo-Nazis had assembled in Charlottesville to protest the removal of statues honoring two Confederate generals of the U.S. Civil War.
The night before, the “Unite the Right” protesters had staged a torch-lit march through the nearby University of Virginia campus, chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans.
Republican U.S. President Donald Trump was strongly condemned by fellow Republicans as well as Democrats for saying afterward that “both sides” were to blame for the violence.
Fields, a resident of Maumee, Ohio, was photographed hours before the car attack carrying a shield with the emblem of a far-right hate group. He has identified himself as a neo-Nazi.
Fields faces separate federal hate-crime charges, which carry a potential death sentence. He has pleaded not guilty in that case.
Reporting by Gary Robertson in Charlottesville, Va.; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky