The man convicted of murder in the deadly car attack on counterprotesters at the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges Wednesday in order to dodge a possible death penalty.
James Alex Fields Jr., 21, from Maumee, Ohio, pleaded guilty to 29 of 30 charges against him. The 30th charge, which included a possible death sentence, was dropped. He’s been ordered to return to court on July 3 to be sentenced.
The single charge in Count 30 was brought under a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. It had accused Fields of racially motivated violent interference with a federally protected activity — counterprotesters using the public streets and sidewalks of Charlottesville — and carried a possible death penalty.
Fields was convicted in state court in December for the death of anti-racism activist Heather Heyer, 32, and for injuring dozens more during the infamous United The Right rally on Aug. 12, 2017.
“The defendant in this case has pled guilty to 29 hate crimes which he committed by driving his car into a crowd of protesters,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement. “These hate crimes are also acts of domestic terrorism.”
Barr cited the recent mosque massacre in New Zealand that left 50 dead in saying the nation must have zero tolerance for racial and religious bias.
“In the aftermath of the mass murder in New Zealand earlier this month, we are reminded that a diverse and pluralistic community such as ours can have zero tolerance for violence on the basis of race, religion, or association with people of other races and religions,” according to Barr.
Before Wednesday in this separate federal prosecution, Fields had pleaded not guilty to 30 hate crime charges. One of those charges had carried a possible death sentence.
U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia Thomas Cullen said he hopes this courtroom deal will spare survivors of reliving that day.
“Although the defendant’s guilty plea cannot undo the pain, suffering, and loss that he caused, it is my hope that it will enable these victims and our community to continue the healing process,” Cullen said.
Hundreds of white nationalists converged on Charlottesville just before the start of the fall term to protest to famed university’s planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
About 30 more people were hurt in Fields’ car attack.
Jurors in his state case found him guilty of murder and recommended he be sentenced to life in prison, plus 419 years.Sentencing in that case is scheduled for July 15.
President Donald Trump blamed the violence at the rally on “both sides” and critics of his viewed that as a refusal to condemn racism.