CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Reuters) – A white nationalist who killed a woman by ramming his car into a crowd protesting a white supremacist rally in Virginia last year should spend the rest of his life in prison, a jury said on Tuesday.
The jury in Charlottesville, Virginia, found James Fields, 21, guilty of first-degree murder and nine other crimes for killing Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring 19 other people after the “Unite the Right” gathering on Aug. 12, 2017.
The trial judge, Richard Moore, said he will decide whether to accept the jury’s recommendation at a March 29 hearing. In addition to a life term for murder, the jury recommended a total of 419 years in prison for Fields’ other crimes.
The jury’s decision, the result of four hours of deliberation on Monday and Tuesday, followed a fresh round of testimony after Fields’ conviction.
Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, tearfully told the jurors on Monday that Fields “tried to silence” her daughter, but that Heyer’s message of tolerance would live on, according to local media.
Defense attorneys never disputed that Fields was behind the wheel of a Dodge Charger that sent bodies flying when it smashed into a group of marching counter-protesters. They instead suggested during the two-week trial that Fields felt intimidated by a hostile crowd and acted to protect himself.
The car-ramming incident capped a day of tension and physical clashes between hundreds of white supremacists and neo-Nazis and groups of opposing demonstrators. The white supremacists had assembled in Charlottesville to protest the removal of statues honoring two Confederate generals of the U.S. Civil War.
The night before, “Unite the Right” protesters had staged a torch-lit march through the nearby University of Virginia campus, chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans.
Republican U.S. President Donald Trump was strongly condemned by Democrats and many of his fellow Republicans for saying afterward that there were “fine people on both sides.”
Fields, a resident of Maumee, Ohio, was photographed hours before the car attack carrying a shield with the emblem of a far-right hate group. He has identified himself as a neo-Nazi.
He also faces separate federal hate-crime charges, which carry a potential death sentence. He has pleaded not guilty in that case.
Reporting by Gary Robertson in Charlottesville; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Berkrot