A federal judge today sentenced 22-year-old Ohio resident James Alex Fields Jr. to life in prison for driving his car into a group of anti-racism protesters at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, killing protester Heather Heyer and injuring 30 others.
Federal prosecutors sought the life sentence for the federal hate crimes charges, saying Fields acted out of hatred, but Fields' attorneys asked for more leniency, saying he suffers from mental illness and experienced trauma in his youth.
"No amount of punishment imposed on James can repair the damage he caused to dozens of innocent people," his attorneys write. "But this Court should find that retribution has limits."
Fields grew up in Northern Kentucky and lived in Maumee, Ohio at the time of the rally. He drove to the event hosted by white nationalist groups to protest the removal of a statue honoring Confederate general Robert E. Lee. While there, he drove his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing Heyer and injuring many others.
Fields in March agreed to a plea deal on 29 federal hate crimes charges. In exchange, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty.
He also faces sentencing on murder and other charges in the state of Virginia. Sentencing for those charges should take place July 15. A jury in the state case has recommended Fields spend life plus 419 years in prison for those crimes.
His attorneys say Fields was diagnosed as bipolar early in his life and was later diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder. Prosecutors, however, point out that Fields was long known by classmates and teachers to talk openly about his white supremacist beliefs and often praised Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. They say that giving Fields the maximum sentence will help discourage similar acts of domestic terrorism.