CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WRIC/AP) — An avowed white supremacist was sentenced to life plus 419 years on state charges Monday for deliberately driving his car into anti-racism protesters during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.
James Alex Fields Jr., 22, received the sentence for killing one person — 32-year-old Heather Heyer — and injuring dozens during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017.
Last month, Fields received a life sentence on 29 federal hate crime charges.
Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard Moore followed a state jury’s recommendation in handing down the sentence. Under state law, he was allowed to go lower than the recommendation, but not higher.
“Mr. Fields, you had choices. We all have choices,” Moore said. “You made the wrong ones and you caused great harm. … You caused harm around the globe when people saw what you did.”
The state sentence is mainly symbolic given that Fields was already sentenced to life on the federal charges.
“It was important that these sentences reflected that these were individual people who were harmed,” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina-Alice Antony said after the hearing. “It was Miss Heyer who lost her life, it was Mr. Martin who’s leg was hurt, it was Ms. Peterson who testified; all of the victims who testified had their own unique story.
“It happened all at once, it happened in one instance, but serving these sentences consecutively – at least to the Commonwealth – means each of the individual victims had their sentences felt and heard.”
The courtroom was filled with anger and tears as victims and family members told the judge how Fields’ actions will stick with them forever.
“It ripped the joy from my entire being,” said April Muniz, who attended the August 2017 rally and witnessed the deadly incident first hand. “And if I ever come close to experiencing joy again, I reverted right back to that moment of terror.”
Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, said she thinks she can finally ‘move forward’ after Monday’s sentencing.
“I feel at least he is in the hands of justice and I can continue to move forward,” Bro said. “I have to say I feel a sense of relief. I know that this was a sad and difficult situation.”
Fields didn’t say anything when the judge offered him the opportunity to address the courtroom. As he was leaving court for the last time, an 8News reporter who was inside the courtroom saw Fields smiling at his attorneys.
Fields, an avowed white supremacist who kept a photo of Adolf Hitler on his bedside table, drove from his home in Maumee, Ohio, to attend the rally, which drew hundreds of white nationalists to Charlottesville to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The event also drew counterprotesters who demonstrated against the white nationalists.
Violent skirmishes between the two sides prompted police to declare an unlawful assembly and to order the groups to disband before the rally could even begin. Later that day, Fields plowed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heyer , 32, and injuring more than two dozen others.
The event stirred racial tensions around the country. President Donald Trump sparked controversy when he blamed the violence at the rally on “both sides,” a statement that critics saw as a refusal to condemn racism.
During Fields’ state trial, his attorneys focused on his history of mental illness and traumatic childhood.