Federal prosecutor retires from Justice Department, leaves Fields case

The Department of Justice has appointed a new prosecutor to the case

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Stephen Curran withdrew as an attorney from the case on Monday afternoon.

Stephen Curran, a prosecutor in the federal case against the man accused of driving a car into counter-protesters at last year’s white nationalist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, has retired from the Department of Justice and is leaving the case.

James Alex Fields, Jr., 21, was charged in June with 30 counts of federal criminal statutes in connection with driving a Dodge Challenger into a crowd at the Aug. 12, 2017 Unite the Right rally, injuring dozens and killing Heather Heyer. Fields has pled not guilty.

One of the lead prosecutors on the case, U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen, filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, saying Curran had left the DOJ.

Curran, a civil rights attorney with the Department of Justice, is known for his work in the conviction of Dylann Roof, who killed nine black church parishioners in Charleston, S.C. in 2015.

Fields is charged with 29 counts of hate crime acts and one count of racially-motivated interference in federally-protected activities. Fields could face life sentences for 29 of the 30 charges, and the DOJ may seek the death penalty for the killing of Heyer.

He is also being tried in Charlottesville Circuit Court for 10 charges — including first-degree murder, malicious wounding and aggravated malicious wounding and failure to stop at the scene of the crash. The prosecutor in the state case is Nina-Alice Antony. Fields will go to court for the state charges Nov. 26.

Brian McGinn, a public affairs specialist in the office of the Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, said the two lead prosecutors — Cullen and assistant U.S. attorney Chris Kavanaugh — are remaining on the case. Risa Berkower, a civil rights attorney at the DOJ, is taking Curran’s place.

“In terms of actual, real world impact, the prosecution … There’s not an impact,” McGinn said. “The two main prosecutors — they’re locally based, they’re still here — we’re still getting support from the civil rights division like we were. It’s just that it’s a different prosecutor from the civil rights division.”

Fields has a hearing for the federal charges Dec. 7.

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