Luke Kenton, Daily Mail, March 27, 2019
A self-proclaimed white supremacist and Hitler admirer who murdered a woman when he intentionally drove his car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters in Virginia escaped the death penalty Wednesday by admitting hate crime charges.
James Alex Fields Jr, 21, pleaded guilty to 29 of 30 federal charges, relating to the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017.
Striking a plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to cease their pursuit of the death penalty, dismissing the one charge that carried the punishment as a possibility.
An emotionless Fields sat with his hands folded in front of him for much of the hearing, virtually remaining silent, except for repeatedly responding ‘yes, sir,’ when US District Judge Michael Urbanski asked him if he was pleading guilty knowingly and voluntarily.
He also admitted he ‘expressed and promoted’ white supremacist ideology online and engaged in pro-Neo Nazi chanting at the Charlottesville rally.
Fields additionally confirmed he intentionally drove his car into a crowd of protesters, because of their ethnically diverse mixture of race, religion and national origin.
The charges for which Fields pleaded guilty to carry the possibility of life in prison. He is set to re-appear in court for sentencing in July.
The ‘Unite the Right’ rally drew hundreds of white nationalists to Charlottesville to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen Robert E Lee.
Hundreds more turned out to protest against the white nationalists.
Fields was convicted in December of first-degree murder and other state charges for killing anti-racism activist Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring dozens of others when he drove his car into counter-demonstrators gathered near the rally.
A jury found that Fields intentionally plowed his car into a crowd of people protesting against the white nationalists.
President Trump sparked a national uproar when he blamed the violence at the rally on ‘both sides’, and insisted there were ‘fine people’ protesting against the statue’s removal too.
Critics saw the president’s statement as a refusal to publicly condemn racism.
‘I think there is blame on both sides,’ Trump said to reporters in New York, shortly after the chaos ensued.
‘What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘alt-right,’ do they have any semblance of guilt?” Trump asked. ‘You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. nobody wants to say it, but I will say it right now.’
The car attack by Fields came after violent brawling between the two sides prompted police to disband the crowds.
During his state trial, prosecutors said Fields — who described himself on social media as an admirer of Adolf Hitler — drove his car directly into a crowd of counter-protesters because he was angry after witnessing earlier clashes between the two groups.
The jury rejected a claim by Fields’ lawyers that he acted in self-defense because he feared for his life after witnessing the earlier violence.
More than 30 people were hurt in the car attack. Some who received life-altering injuries described them in anguished detail during the state trial.
After Fields’ admission of guilt, US Attorney Thomas Cullen said he hoped the moment will now help the victims move on with their lives.
‘The defendant’s hate-inspired act of domestic terrorism not only devastated Heather Heyer’s wonderful family and the 28 peaceful protesters … but it also left an indelible mark on the city of Charlottesville, our state and our country,’ he said on Tuesday.
In his plea hearing on March 27, Fields responded to the Judges’ questions to confirm he has been treated for a series of mental illnesses since he was six.
He said he’s currently being medicated for bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and ADHD.
Jurors in Fields’ state trial recommended a life sentence plus 419 years, although a judge still has to decide on the punishment. Sentencing is scheduled for July 15.
When asked if he daughter’s death held significance, Heather’s mother, Susan Bro, told CBS News: ‘Sadly, it took a white girl dying before anyone paid attention to civil rights around here … Heather’s death is at least a catalyst for change.’
‘I wish we would have woken up sooner,’ she added.