Days after finding James Alex Fields Jr. guilty of first-degree murder and nine other charges for driving into a group of people protesting against the white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017 — injuring dozens of people and killing a young woman named Heather Heyer — a jury has sentenced Fields to life in prison.
After beginning deliberations on Monday, the jury recommended Fields serve life in prison plus 419 years. They also suggested that Fields be required to pay $480,000 in fines.
On December 8, Fields was found guilty on five counts of malicious wounding, three counts of aggravated malicious wounding, and one count of failing to stop at the scene of an accident involving a death.
According to the Washington Post, the Tuesday sentencing breaks down to “life for first-degree murder; 70 years for each of five counts of aggravated malicious wounding; 20 years for each of three counts of malicious wounding; and nine years for leaving the scene of a fatal crash.”
The Post notes that presiding Judge Richard E. Moore is allowed to reduce the proposed sentence but cannot impose a sentence stronger than the one recommended by the jury. Moore will officially sentence Fields on March 29, 2019.
During the trial, the focus for both the prosecution and the defense was on Fields’s intent, not whether or not he drove his car into a crowd. As reported by BuzzFeed News’s Blake Montgomery, to prove that Fields intended to commit violence that day in Charlottesville, prosecutors showed the jury Fields’s social media postings, which included memes about protesters getting run over by cars.
Virginia Commonwealth attorney Nina-Alice Antony said in her closing statement, “Hatred fills his mind when he sees the counterprotesters, that group that was so clearly the Other [to him]. He’s presented with an opportunity. He takes his car from drive to reverse, then floors it. He seizes that opportunity to make his Instagram post a reality.”
Charlottesville has released two Instagram posts James Fields made in May 2017 that will be part of the prosecution's case, one a private message and one a public post. They're both memes of protesters getting run over by cars. pic.twitter.com/wLAwgxRZnR— Blake Montgomery (@blakersdozen) November 30, 2018
Prosecutors also used recordings of Fields’s jailhouse conversations with his mother from December 2017, in which he described Heather Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, as an “anti-white supremacist.” When his mother responded, “She lost her daughter,” Fields, who described Heather as “that one girl who died, or whatever,” said that Heyer’s death “doesn’t fucking matter.”
Fields will also go on trial for federal hate crimes charges in 2019.