This is a developing story.
James Alex Fields Jr., convicted of murdering Heather Heyer, has been sentenced to life in prison, nearly 23 months after he drove his car into a crowd of people protesting a white supremacist rally, killing Heyer and injuring dozens of others.
Fields, 22, accepted a plea agreement in March and pleaded guilty to 29 federal hate crimes charges, including the first-degree murder of Heyer, who was among those protesting the white supremacist Unite the Right rally on Aug. 12, 2017, in downtown Charlottesville. Each of the 29 counts he pleaded guilty to carried a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000.
The case is unique among hate crime prosecutions, according to a memorandum prosecutors filed earlier in the month, and may serve as a deterrent to other white supremacists.
Haunting footage of the Aug. 12, 2017, car attack that killed a local activist and injured dozens was presented Friday. Images of each of Fields’ victims and the injuries they sustained were presented, prompting many victims and supporters in the courtroom to leave. Sobbing occasionally punctuated the somber atmosphere.
Many victims of Fields’ attack and their families — most identified only by their initials — gave impact statements, asking for a life sentence that would serve as a deterrent for future white supremacist violence.
Susan Bro, Heyer’s mother, said she had fought through her grief and channeled her pain into a fight for civil rights. Despite the deep wounds Fields inflicted on her family, Bro said she never wished to see him put to death.
“I would like to see him find meds that help heal his mind,” she said. “I would like to see him grow from a white supremacist into someone who can help bring others away from white supremacy.”
Heyer’s father, Mark Heyer, said his daughter had come to the counter-protest to show people that there was a better way to live life than through hatred.
“I want the court and Mr. Fields to know that after everything we’ve heard today that I forgive you,” he said.
A friend of Heyer’s, who traveled with Heyer to the counterprotest, said she still grappled with survivor's guilt, knowing that she easily could have died instead of Heyer.
"There were four of us on A12, united to fight racism and white supremacy; today there are only three," the victim said in a statement to the court.
Interviews conducted with Fields’ former classmates showcased a long history of racist and incendiary behavior.
The court took a brief recess just before 11 a.m.
Fields must still be sentenced in Charlottesville Circuit Court for state crimes. Jurors recommended life in prison and a total of $480,000 in fines after they convicted Fields in December of first-degree murder, aggravated malicious wounding, malicious wounding and hit-and-run. The sentencing is currently scheduled for July 15.