Charlottesville, Virginia — An avowed white supremacist was sentenced to life plus 419 years on federal hate crime charges Monday for deliberately driving his car into anti-racism protesters during a white nationalist rally in Virginia. James Alex Fields Jr., 22, received the sentence for killing one person and injuring dozens during the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017. Fields wasto life in prison on 29 federal hate crime charges.
Judge Richard Moore followed a state jury's recommendation in handing down the sentence. Under state law, he was allowed to go lower than the recommendation, but not higher.
The state sentence is mainly symbolic given his previous sentence on the federal charges.
"For his purposes, he has one life to give, so this is a largely academic exercise," noted Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University.
Fields, an avowed white supremacist who kept a photo of Adolf Hitler on his bedside table, drove from his home in Maumee, Ohio, to attend the rally, which drew hundreds of white nationalists to Charlottesville to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The event also drew counterprotesters who demonstrated against the white nationalists.
Violent skirmishes between the two sides prompted police to declare an unlawful assembly and to order the groups to disband before the rally could even begin. Later that day, Fields plowed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring more than two dozen others.
The event stirred racial tensions around the country. President Donald Trump sparked controversy when he blamed the violence at the rally on "both sides," a statement that critics saw as a refusal to condemn racism.
Last month, Fields admitted to deliberately driving his car into counterprotesters who showed up to demonstrate against the white nationalists. "I apologize for the hurt and loss I've caused," he said, later adding, "Every day I think about how things could have gone differently and how I regret my actions. I'm sorry."
His comment came after more than a dozen survivors and witnesses delivered emotional testimonies about the physical and psychological wounds they received. Heyer's mother, Susan Bro, was one of the people to speak, CBS affiliate WCAV reported.
"I never wish for the death penalty and still don't," Bro said. "I would like to see him change in time from a white supremacist to someone who helps bring others away from white supremacy."