A man convicted of murder for killing a woman when he drove into a crowd protesting a 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., pleaded guilty to additional federal hate crime charges on Wednesday.
James Fields Jr., 21, faced 30 federal charges for his actions at the “Unite the Right” rally. He pleaded guilty to 29 of them, including one count of a hate crime that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer, an anti-racism activist, and 28 counts for the injuries to nearly 40 other protesters. Each of the counts to which he pleaded guilty carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a fine of up to $ 250,000.
In a letter submitted to the court, Attorney General William P. Barr directed federal prosecutors to forgo seeking the death penalty against Mr. Fields because of the plea agreement.
As part of the agreement, federal prosecutors dismissed one count of bias-motivated interference with federally protected activity resulting in death, referring to Mr. Fields’s act of violence during a state-sanctioned protest. It was the only count in the indictment that could have resulted in the death penalty, a Justice Department spokesman said.
Mr. Barr said in a statement that the hate crimes were “acts of domestic terrorism” and that prosecuting them was a priority for his office.
“In the aftermath of the mass murder in New Zealand earlier this month,” Mr. Barr said, “we are reminded that a diverse and pluralistic community such as ours can have zero tolerance for violence on the basis of race, religion, or association with people of other races and religions.”
Mr. Fields was convicted in December of first-degree murder and other state charges connected to the attack. The jury found that Mr. Fields intentionally plowed his car into a crowd of people protesting against white nationalists, and recommended that he spend the rest of his life in prison.
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Before the attack on Aug. 12, 2017, Mr. Fields expressed white supremacist views on social media, according to a Justice Department news release. He openly supported Nazi policies online, including the perpetration of the Holocaust, and advocated violence against people of color, the news release said.
According to the federal indictment, filed in June, Mr. Fields intentionally drove his car into the crowd of counterprotesters because they were a racially diverse group.
He was also convicted of nine other state charges, including aggravated malicious wounding and leaving the scene of a fatal accident, for which the jury recommended a sentence of hundreds more years in prison.
Joseph D. Platania, the commonwealth’s attorney, said in an email that Mr. Fields’s guilty plea in federal count would have no impact on his office’s plan to ask the state court to impose the jury’s recommended sentence.
He is due to be sentenced on both the federal and state charges in July.
Ms. Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, said that she agreed with the decision not to seek the death penalty against the man who killed her daughter, The Associated Press reported.
“There’s no point in killing him,” she said. “It would not bring back Heather.”