CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – The suspect behind last summer’s deadly vehicle incident in Charlottesville, Virginia, pleaded not guilty to 30 federal hate crime charges in federal court Thursday.
James Alex Fields Jr., who was arrested in Charlottesville last August 12, pleaded not guilty to 30 counts, including a hate crime resulting in death and bodily injury, and racially motivated violent interference with “federally protected activity.”
The indictment adds a new federal civil rights dimension to the case that captured the nation’s attention when supremacist groups descended on the Virginia city and violent clashes erupted.
Prosecutors say Fields killed Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old Charlottesville paralegal, and injured others who were demonstrating against the “Unite the Right” rally. The event drew self-described “white nationalists” and other organizations who opposed the city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park.
Heyer’s friends and family packed the courtroom Thursday, July 5. One young woman left the hearing in tears.
Fields told the judge he is receiving treatment from a doctor for bi-polar, anxiety, depression, and ADHD.
He faces the death penalty on one of the federal charges.
Heyer's mother: 'I held out some faint hope'
Susan Bro, Heather Heyer’s mother, said tears came to her eyes when Fields entered a not guilty plea.
“I held out some faint hope that he may admit his guilt,” Bro said.
More than a dozen victims in that attack scoffed loudly when fields said “not guilty" in the courtroom.
“I’m always kind of taken aback when I look at him he doesn`t look horrified or shocked,” Bro said.
Bro has attended almost every hearing Fields has had.
“At home I cry sometimes,” Bro said. “Frankly, sometimes the grief incapacitates me.”
With a little more than a month until the one-year anniversary of her daughter’s death, Bro said she is making plans for the day and that they will likely be somber.
“It’s like losing an arm or a leg. I learn to live with the amputation; I don`t like it, but I`m learning to cope with it,” she said. “But I do miss my daughter a lot."
Attorney General: Promising young life cut short
“At the Department of Justice, we remain resolute that hateful ideologies will not have the last word and that their adherents will not get away with violent crimes against those they target,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a statement last week.
“Last summer’s violence in Charlottesville cut short a promising young life and shocked the nation. Today’s indictment should send a clear message to every would-be criminal in America that we aggressively prosecute violent crimes of hate that threaten the core principles of our nation.”
Fields already faces state first-degree murder and malicious wounding charges and the case was set for a trial this fall.
Surveillance video from the scene showed a Dodge Challenger stopping about a block and a half away from the protesters, reversing, then driving into the crowd before speeding away in reverse.
Fields could not be seen driving the car, but aerial footage from Virginia State Police showed him getting out of the car and on the ground after the collision.