Jury recommends life in prison for Charlottesville murderer who plowed into crowd

Posted at 12:45 PM, Dec 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-11 12:45:46-05

A jury wants James Fields, convicted of killing paralegal Heather Heyer during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, to serve life in prison on the murder charge, it decided Tuesday.

They also recommended a $100,000 fine on the murder count. For the five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, the jury said Fields should receive 350 years and a $350,000 fine, and for the three counts of malicious wounding, he should get 60 years and a $30,000 fine. For the final count of leaving the scene of the accident, the jury ruled Fields should be imprisoned for nine years.

Fields looked straight ahead and gave no audible reaction as the verdict was read.

Judge Richard Moore will formally sentence Fields on March 29 and can rubber stamp or overrule the jury's decision. Moore will also decide if the sentences will run concurrently or consecutively.

Fields, 21, was attending last year's Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville when counterprotesters demonstrated against the white nationalists. That afternoon, Fields got in his Dodge Challenger and plowed into the counterprotesters at about 28 mph, killing the 32-year-old Heyer.

The jury found Fields guilty of first-degree murder and the other counts Friday.

In addition to the state charges, Fields also faces 30 federal hate crimes charges. The next step in his federal case is a January 31 status conference.

On Monday, Susan Bro finally confronted her daughter's killer, presenting a victim impact statement. She told the court that her family members have attended therapy sessions "to push back the darkness."

As for her own life, she said, it will never be the same. At one point, as she read her statement, she apologized to the court, saying it was difficult to read through her tears.

"Some days I can't do anything but sit and cry as the grief overtakes me," she said.

One of the victims of the attack, Star Peterson, said Fields ran over her leg. Not only has it not healed, but "the metal holding my leg together has harbored one infection after the other," she said.

Peterson called the last 16 months of her life a "nightmare" and said her 7-year-old son fears going out in public because someone might attack him.

A University of Virginia psychologist, Daniel Murrie, who evaluated Fields before the trial, told the court that the 21-year-old had a history of mental illness and was on antipsychotic medication by age 6.

He was hospitalized for mental illness when he was 7 and again when he was 15, Murrie said. He was diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder at 14. His father and both grandfathers, too, struggled with bipolar disorder, the doctor said, explaining that one of Fields' grandfathers killed his wife and himself.

"Mr. Fields did not come to Charlottesville in good mental health. In fact, he came to Charlottesville not having taken medication in two years," the defense attorney argued. "On August 12, he was a mentally compromised individual."

Murrie determined that Fields was legally sane at the time of the attack, which is why the prosecution was able to proceed.