An Ohio man has pleaded not guilty to more than two dozen federal hate crime charges stemming from the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.
But James Alex Fields Jr., 21, of Maumee, Ohio, won’t face a federal jury anytime soon. His court appointed attorney and a federal prosecutor told a judge the case is extremely complicated, with dozens of witnesses and victims involved.
“This case is different. As an example, as of the fall of 2017, members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation represented to members of the prosecution team that the amount of digital evidence collected in this case had surpassed that from the investigation into the Boston Marathon Bombing in April 2013,” federal public defender Fred Heblich and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh told the court in a joint filing.
Fields is charged with one count of a hate crime act resulting in the death of 32-year-old counter-protester Heather Heyer; 28 counts of hate crime acts causing bodily injury and involving an attempt to kill; and one count of racially motivated violent interference with a federally protected activity resulting in the death of Heyer.
Prosecutors also filed a notice of special circumstances in the case, meaning Fields could face the death penalty if convicted. In court records, attorneys indicated that decision will not be made for some time.
Fields also faces first-degree murder charges in state court, with trial set for November.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Hoppe ordered Fields held without bail pending trial, concluding there were no conditions he could impose to guarantee Fields would show up for trial if released.
Officials said Fields, a young neo-Nazi who once rallied with the racist "alt-right" group Vanguard America, drove his car into a crowd of protesters on a downtown street in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The special findings said Fields acted intentionally when Heyer was killed and that he tried to kill at least one and possibly more people by driving his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.
At a hearing in December, state prosecutors showed a video of Fields’ Dodge Challenger driving with the flow of traffic, then slowly backing up and finally accelerating at a high speed in the direction of the crowd.
Prosecutors also presented additional aerial footage from the Virginia State Police helicopter that captured the attack and followed Fields as he fled the scene only to surrender a little over a mile away.
Fields appearance in federal court on Thursday comes as white supremacist Jason Kessler plans a second “Unite the Right” rally. Kessler is aiming to mark the anniversary of the 2017 event with protests in Charlottesville and Lafayette Square Park in Washington, D.C., directly across the street from the White House.
Kessler has not been granted a permit for a second rally in Charlottesville. The National Park Service has accepted Kessler’s application to hold a rally in Washington, D.C.
“That being said no one needs weapons for the UTR 2 DC rally,” Kessler tweeted on July 1. “In fact, bringing them will put you at risk because you won’t be allowed near Lafayette Square, let alone the White House if you come armed and will be left outside with the Antifa.”
The first “Unite the Right” Rally was also supposed to be peaceful, too. Only time will tell how a second go-round will turn out.
Photo credit: Eze Amos/AP Images