Charlottesville car attacker James Alex Fields pleads guilty to 29 federal hate crimes

The plea might have allowed him to dodge the death penalty.
March 27, 2019, 8:39pm
The young neo-Nazi who rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters during the violent, white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally two years ago in Charlottesville, Virginia, pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges on Wednesday.

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The young neo-Nazi who rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters during the violent, white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally two years ago in Charlottesville, Virginia, pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges on Wednesday.

James Alex Fields Jr., 21, was hit with both state and federal charges for his actions during Unite the Right, which left 32-year-old Heather Heyer dead and dozens more injured. In December, a Virginia jury found Fields guilty on the state charges, which included first-degree murder, and recommended that he spend life, plus 419 years, in state prison.

Fields, who drove from Maumee, Ohio, to attend the August 2017 rally, was indicted on 30 federal civil rights charges last June — 29 of which were for hate crimes. He initially pleaded not guilty to all charges. On Wednesday, he switched his plea to "guilty” for all 29 hate crime charges.

“The violence in Charlottesville was an act of hate, and everyone across the country felt the impact," FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement. "This guilty plea underscores that we won’t stand for hate and violence in our communities.”

The last charge, “bias-motivated interference with federally protected activity resulting in death,” carries the possibility of the death penalty, which prosecutors had not ruled out. It’s not clear what the status of that charge is now. According to NBC 29, Fields and his lawyers struck a deal: He would plead guilty to hate crime charges on the condition that prosecutors took the death penalty off the table.

Cover image: This undated file photo provided by the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail shows James Alex Fields Jr., convicted of first-degree murder for driving his car into counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally in Virginia. (Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail via AP, File)