CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (WWBT) - James Fields Jr. – the man who plowed into a crowd during the Unite the Right rally in August 2017 – pleaded guilty Wednesday to dozens of federal hate crimes.
This comes after a jury found Fields guilty in December of first-degree murder in the death of Heather Heyer, as well as charges of aggravated malicious wounding, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of leaving the scene of an accident causing serious injury or death.
Fields originally pleaded not guilty to more than two dozen federal hate crime charges, but changed his plea Wednesday. Those crimes carried the possibility of the death penalty.
On Wednesday, Fields pleaded guilty to 29 charges - one for killing Heyer and 28 for injuring other people. Fields will be sentenced July 3.
The plea allows Fields to avoid the death penalty, but each charge carries a possible life sentence.
In the two-week trial last year, the commonwealth argued the case was about intent. Prosecutors said Fields used his car as a deadly weapon and that he acted with malice, intent and premeditation.
Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina-Alice Antony said Fields acted with hatred, and that same hatred can be seen in text messages sent to his mother before the rally. She told him to be careful and Fields replied with “we are not the ones who need to be careful” alongside a picture of Adolf Hitler.
Photo evidence was released in December, including Fields in a convenience store with Joshua Matthews, and a young couple from the Richmond area. They were all together less than an hour before the crash. Fields dropped them off at their car, and they said no to going to lunch.
Antony said in December that it was important for jurors to see that Fields had an intent to harm others, making a decision to act of “ill will, hate and anger.”
Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, said during testimony that her daughter’s death was like an “explosion” in her family. She said Fields tried to “silence” her daughter with his car, and said: “I refuse to allow that.”
In the trial last year, a jury recommended that Fields spend life in prison for first-degree murder, 70 years for each count of aggravated malicious wounding (5 counts), 20 years for each count of malicious wounding (3 counts) and nine years for hit and run.
The jury also recommended fines of about $500,000.
Copyright 2019 WWBT. All rights reserved.