James Fields, the man who drove his Dodge Challenger into a group of counterprotesters at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, killing a woman, will avoid the death penalty.
The 21-year-old Ohio native changed his plea from not guilty to guilty in federal court in Charlottesville on Wednesday afternoon.
He pleaded guilty to 29 federal hate crime charges, including one count of a hate crime act resulting in death and 28 counts of a hate crime act involving attempt to kill.
The 30th charge he faced was one count of bias-motivated interference with a federally protected activity resulting in death. That count, punishable by death, was dropped as part of the plea deal.
He had previously pleaded not guilty to all 30 counts.
Fields was convicted by a Virginia jury in December 2018 of first-degree murder in the death of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old activist and paralegal.
In addition to the murder charge, Fields was convicted of five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of failing to stop at an accident involving a death.
The jury recommended life in prison plus 419 years at the December sentencing. Judge Richard Moore will decide on Fields’ punishment for the state charges in July.
On Aug. 11, 2017, as Fields got ready to leave his home in Ohio for the rally, a family member sent him a text telling him to be careful. He responded, “We’re not the ones who need to be careful” along with a photo of Adolf Hitler, a copy of his indictment shows.
A day later in Charlottesville, Fields drove his car downhill on a narrow one-way street and stopped as he approached a “racially and ethnically diverse crowd” chanting and carrying signs to protest against the Unite the Right” rally Fields was part of. He backed his car up to the top of the hill and “rapidly accelerated,” plowing through dozens of people and killing Heyer.
Fields fled the scene, but was captured by police shortly after.
“The violence in Charlottesville was an act of hate, and everyone across the country felt the impact,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray.
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