The man who allegedly drove into a crowd of protesters at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing one woman and injuring 35 others, was charged with first-degree murder on Thursday, the Washington Post reports. The upgraded charge could land the 20-year-old in prison for the rest of his life.
James Fields Jr. was initially charged with second-degree murder and arrested back in August, after he allegedly rammed his car into another vehicle that shot into a group of counter-protesters. The crash, which occurred during Charlottesville's chaotic "Unite the Right" rally, ended up killing a young woman named Heather Heyer, and left eight of the dozens injured significantly impaired.
According to the Post, prosecutors argued in court Thursday that Field's alleged crime was intentional, and announced his charges would be updated to first-degree murder and eight counts of "aggravated malicious wounding." Fields's case is set to go before a grand jury next week and if he's indicted, his case will go to trial. He could spend anywhere from 20 years to life in prison if convicted.
Fields was spotted with white supremacist groups in Charlottesville before the crash, but prosecutors haven't been able to prove that he was linked to any specific organization. According to former classmates and teachers, the 20-year-old was fascinated with Nazism and white supremacy and would openly "proclaim himself as a Nazi."
According to the Daily Beast, Fields's alleged actions have only emboldened some members of the white nationalist community, and many have started threatening Heyer's mother, Susan Bro, after her death. Ahead of the trial on Thursday, Bro told the Daily Beast that she had decided to inter her daughter's ashes in a protected, unmarked spot to avoid unwanted attention from extremists.
"It’s a symptom of hate in society that you should have to protect your child’s grave, for Pete’s sake," Bro told the Beast. "So, I’m protecting my child now."
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