James A. Fields Jr., an avowed neo-Nazi who killed Heather Heyer and injured 35 other people when he rammed his car into a crowd of peaceful counterprotesters at the white supremacist rally in downtown Charlottesville nearly two years ago, was sentenced to life in prison Friday on federal hate crime charges.
Chief U.S. District Court Judge Michael F. Urbanski delivered the sentence after hearing testimony from both sides, including more than a dozen survivors of and witnesses to the car attack. Fields, a 22-year-old from Ohio, also addressed the court before the sentencing.
“I apologize for the hurt and loss I’ve caused,” Fields said before the judge. “Every day I think about how things could have gone differently and how I regret my actions. I’m sorry.”
Lawyers for Fields requested leniency, citing his age, difficult childhood and mental health problems. Prosecutors — seeking a sentence of life in prison — argued that Fields’s racist and anti-Semitic beliefs motivated his decision to attack counterprotesters.
“The defendant’s crimes were so horrendous — and the maiming of innocents so severe — that they outweigh any factors the defendant may argue form a basis for leniency,” federal prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo. “This is particularly true in light of the fact that he has demonstrated that he feels no remorse for his actions and continues to espouse his hateful ideology.”
During the hearing, prosecutors presented film of the Aug. 12, 2017 car attack as well as Fields’ social media postings and recordings of phone conversations with his mother while in jail, in which Fields repeatedly called Heyer “the enemy.”
A high school classmate of Fields also testified to the grand jury that on a high school trip to the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, Fields remarked, "this is where the magic happened."
In delivering his verdict, Urbanski said the evidence showed that Fields’ actions were premeditated and “doesn’t demonstrate a crime born out of impulse, youth or mental illness.”
Fields’s lawyers asked the judge for a sentence that would allow him to eventually be released from prison.
“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,” his lawyers wrote in a sentencing memo.
Fields, who pleaded guilty to 29 federal hate crime chargers earlier this year, also faces sentencing in state court on July 15 for first-degree murder charges. A jury has recommended a life sentence plus 419 years.