FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail shows James Alex Fields Jr.  (Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail via AP, File)

(Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail via AP, File)

James Alex Fields Jr. Change-of-Plea

Mom of car attack victim hopes for hate crimes guilty plea

March 27, 2019 - 11:51 am

By DENISE LAVOIE AP Legal Affairs Writer

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — The mother of a woman killed in a car attack at a white nationalist rally says she is hoping the man convicted in her death in state court pleads guilty to all 30 federal hate crime charges against him.

James Alex Fields Jr., 21, pleaded not guilty to the federal charges last year. He's scheduled for a change-of-plea hearing in Charlottesville Wednesday.

Prosecutors declined to comment on how Fields' plea is expected to change.

Fields, of Maumee, Ohio, was convicted in December on state murder charges for killing anti-racism activist Heather Heyer when he plowed his car into counterprotesters at the 2017 rally.

Heyer's mother, Susan Bro, says she hopes Fields will plead guilty to the hate crimes so she won't have to attend another trial and listen to "more of the hateful rhetoric."

Bro said she plans to attend the change-of-plea hearing wearing several of her daughter's bracelets.

"I'm hoping this can be the end of it," Bro said.

One of the hate crimes charges against Fields made him eligible for the death penalty, but prosecutors had not yet announced whether they planned to seek that punishment.

The "Unite the Right" rally on Aug. 12, 2017, drew hundreds of white nationalists to Charlottesville to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Hundreds more turned out to protest against the white nationalists.

The car attack came after violent brawling between the two sides prompted police to disband the crowds.

During his state trial, prosecutors said Fields — described by a former teacher as an admirer of Adolf Hitler — drove his car directly into a crowd of counterprotesters because he was angry after witnessing earlier clashes between the two groups.

The jury rejected the defense claim that Fields acted in self-defense because he feared for his life after witnessing the earlier violence.

More than 30 people were hurt in the car attack, including some with life-altering injuries they described in anguished detail during the state trial.

President Donald Trump sparked an uproar when he blamed the violence at the rally on "both sides." Critics saw that as a refusal to condemn racism.

Jurors in Fields' state trial recommended a life sentence plus 419 years, although a judge still has to decide on the punishment. Sentencing is scheduled for July 15.


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