Jurors Recommend Life in Prison for Ohio Man Convicted in 'Unite the Right' Killing

James Alex Fields Jr. will likely receive more than 400 years in prison for driving his car into a group of protesters, killing one and wounding as many as 35 others. He also faces the death penalty in connection with a separate federal hate crime case

click to enlarge James Alex Fields Jr.
James Alex Fields Jr.

Jurors have recommended life in prison — plus another 419 years — for the Ohio man who drove through a crowd of anti-racism protesters in Charlottesville, Va. last year, killing one.

The same jurors Dec. 7 found 21-year-old James Alex Fields Jr., who once lived in Northern Kentucky and recently resided in Maumee, Ohio with his mother, guilty of murdering 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer and injuring as many as 35 others counter-protesting at the “Unite the Right” rally Aug. 12, 2017. Fields drove his Dodge Challenger into a large crowd of people protesting against white nationalist groups after authorities shut down the alt-right rally.

Prosecutor Nina-Alice Antony used a number of pieces of evidence to convince jurors that Fields had white nationalist sympathies and violent intent when he went to the rally, including memes Fields posted on Instagram three months prior to the rally showing a car plowing into a crowd of protesters.

“What we have is a man who had a decision, and he decides to turn his Instagram post into reality,” Antony said, according to the Associated Press.

But Fields’ attorneys argued that their client acted in self-defense because he was “scared to death” after driving into the middle of the protest. Attorney Denise Lunsford claimed that Fields saw two other cars surrounded by crowds further down the street, causing him to fear he was in danger.

“Look at the circumstances as they appeared to him,” Lunsford said. “He says he felt he was in danger, there were people coming at him.”

Jurors didn’t buy the self-defense claim, however, and found Fields guilty of first-degree murder for Heyer’s death and malicious wounding and aggravated malicious wounding for the injuries he caused.

After deliberating for about four hours over the past two days, jurors recommended the life sentence for Heyer's death plus an additional 70 years each for five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, 20 years each for three counts of malicious wounding and nine years for leaving the scene of an accident.

The panel chose the maximum sentence for Fields on the murder charge. Fields also faces a potential death sentence under a separate federal hate crime charge.