The neo-Nazi who drove into a crowd in the chaos surrounding the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville pleaded guilty to 29 federal hate crime charges Wednesday. The guilty pleas come as part of a plea deal that means prosecutors will not seek the death penalty for 21-year-old James Fields, who rammed his car into a crowd protesting the white supremacist rally. Each hate crime count carries with it a maximum sentence of life in prison, though Fields is already facing life in prison for killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer that day.
In December, a Virginia jury found Fields guilty of first-degree murder for his role in Heyer’s death, as well as nine other crimes, and recommended he serve life in prison, plus 419 years. Fields is scheduled to be sentenced in that case in July. Previously, Fields had pleaded not guilty to the hate crimes charges, but agreed to a deal that dropped a 30th charge that carried with it the possibility of the death penalty.
Fields was only one part of the gruesome events in Charlottesville on Aug.
12, 2017, where a group of loosely aligned white supremacist groups staged a march in the college town that is home to the University of Virginia. The march, ostensibly to protest the planned removal of a statue of Civil War Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The provocative rally drew counterprotesters and the scene quickly devolved into violence. Videos were taken of Fields accelerating his Dodge Charger into a group of protesters, an act the Ohio native’s lawyers didn’t contest. Instead, his legal team argued the self-described neo-Nazi was acting in self-defense after feeling intimidated by the crowd.