The man convicted for ramming his car into a crowd during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville has been sentenced to life in prison.
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James Alex Fields had his sentencing hearing in federal court in Virginia, in the same town where his 2017 car ramming led to the death of a counter-protester, Heather Heyer, and injured others.
Fields, who is now 22, already pleaded guilty to 29 of 30 federal hate crimes in March. The Associated Press reports that in part of the plea deal that he reached at the time, the prospect of a death sentence was removed.
Thomas Cullen, the U.S. Attorney for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, called the car ramming a “hate-inspired act of domestic terrorism.”
He said that in addition to Heyer, the lives of those who were injured “will never be the same.” Cullen said Fields “deserved to spend the rest of his life in prison.”
Susan Bro, Heyer’s mother, said she agreed. Speaking at a press conference after the sentencing, Bro said she didn’t want him to receive the death penalty even though “he probably deserved it, but it probably wouldn’t accomplish anything.”
Bro apologized “to the tax payers, for saddling you with this burden” by having Fields spend life in prison, “but it was the judge’s call.”
Fields reportedly issued an apology in the sentencing heating before his sentence was issued, but Bro didn’t believe it.
“That was a last attempt to get a reduced sentence,” she said. “He’s the least sincere person I’ve ever met.”
Both prosecutors and Fields’ lawyers earlier determined that the federal sentencing guidelines suggest a life sentence, but the AP reported that last week his defense attorneys wrote a letter to the district judge asking for a sentence “less than life.”
“No amount of punishment imposed on James can repair the damage he caused to dozens of innocent people. But this Court should find that retribution has limits,” Fields’ attorneys wrote, according to the AP.
Friday’s sentencing in federal court is separate from state charges that he faces in connection to the same incident.
In the state case, a jury recommended a sentence of life plus 419 years, though a separate hearing on that sentence is scheduled for mid-July.
Cullen said it is an “undisputed fact” that white supremacism and hate crimes “are rising in this country, they have been for several years.” As such, he hopes that Fields’ sentence will “achieve a deterrence effect for the community at large.”
“This was calculated. It was cold-blooded. It was motivated by this deep-seated racial animus… that was becoming more prevalent as he got older,” Cullen said.
Bro, who now helps run a foundation established in her daughter’s name said she is “very happy” with his sentence.
“I might be able to sleep tonight. I didn’t sleep much last night,” she said.
“I’m kind of done with him and I’m moving on with my life,” she said. “I have things to do.”