Two men with neo-Nazi and militia ties were sentenced Thursday to state prison for taking part in a gang assault of a man in a Charlottesville parking garage during the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in 2017.
Jacob Scott Goodwin, a 24-year-old neo-Nazi sympathizer from Ward, Arkansas, received an eight-year prison sentence, with two more years suspended for his role in the beating of 21-year-old DeAndre Harris, who was prone on the ground during much of the attack.
In a separate hearing, Charlottesville Circuit Judge Richard Moore handed down a six-year sentence for 34-year-old Alex Michael Ramos of Jackson, Georgia. Ramos, a onetime member of a militia group called the Georgia Security Force III%, ran from across a street to kick and stomp on Harris as the beating went on. Ramos also faces three years of probation that could be converted to more prison time if he violates the terms of the supervised release.
“This is one of the most brutal attacks our community has wrestled with,” said prosecutor Nina Antony.
Both sentences were in line with what the jury in each case recommended.
Goodwin wore a military helmet and carried a large shield during the attack on Harris, captured on video in a parking garage next to the Charlottesville Police Department. Ramos joined the attack after Harris was on the ground. Two others have been arrested and charged for taking part in the attack. Daniel Patrick Borden pleaded guilty in May and will be sentenced Oct. 1. Tyler Watkins Davis is scheduled for arraignment Oct. 4. Three other assailants shown on the video have yet to be identified by police.
The hearings for Goodwin and Ramos were the second and third felony sentences handed down in cases coming out of the deadly weekend of Aug. 11-12, 2017. A Maryland Klan leader, Richard Wilson Preston, was sentenced Tuesday to four years in prison.
Apologies, but little responsibility
In separate hearings, Goodwin and Ramos each spoke for the first time since being convicted of malicious wounding. Both gave similar apologies for their actions, but neither took direct responsibility for attacking and beating Harris, who was on the ground for much of the attack. Harris suffered multiple injuries during the assault, including a broken wrist, a spinal injury, a concussion and a head wound that required 10 stitches.
The two were convicted a day apart in May of assaulting Harris on a day when white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other racists overtook downtown Charlottesville. One neo-Nazi sympathizer, 21-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio, is charged with first-degree murder. Police say Fields plowed his car into a crowd near downtown, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
Goodwin, his hair pulled back into a bun on the back of his head, told friends before “Unite the Right” he planned to go to Charlottesville to defend his southern heritage and protect the statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Both statues are near downtown, with the Jackson statue in a park across the street from the courthouse.
“I can’t imagine what happened in the aftermath to his life,” Goodwin told the court. “He didn’t deserve that. I admit, I was scared that day.”
Moore didn’t understand how such a plan ended up in a beating in a garage.
“This garage was nowhere near either of those statues,” Moore said.
Ramos, heavily bearded with a scorpion tattoo peeking out from under his striped prison outfit, initially described feeling threatened by Harris before joining the attack, but later described himself as “embarrassed” by taking part in the violence.
“I made the wrong judgment call,” Ramos said.
Moore cited Facebook posts by Ramos made in the days after the attack. In the posts, Ramos declared: “We stomped ass! Getting some was f------ fun! Victory!”
“The question I have is, was embarrassment your first feeling?” Moore asked Ramos.
“I don’t know what I was thinking that day,” Ramos responded.
“Don’t say you don’t know what you were thinking,” Moore said. “You know what you were thinking.”
Alone, and together
Harris did not attend the hearings on Thursday. Antony said Harris is working to put the beating behind him both physically and mentally. He also declined to file a victim impact statement with the court, which some victims do to make the effect of the crime known to the judge and the assailant.
A group of local activists filed into the courtroom to witness the sentencings and chatted happily after the judge ordered the prison time for both men. One activist waited outside the courthouse for Elmer Woodard, who represented Goodwin, to leave.
“How do you like representing Nazis?” the activist asked as Woodard left.
Ramos appeared alone, save for his attorney, John Paul Joyce. Joyce told the court that Ramos is estranged from his wife and has only three kids and his mother left for family. No one filed any letters with Moore talking about how the crime didn’t reflect the person they knew outside of court.
After being sentenced, Ramos shook hands with Joyce, then followed a deputy out a back door.
Goodwin’s parents, Tamera and Scott Goodwin, held each other throughout the sentencing hearing. At times, as it became apparent that Moore intended to stick with the jury’s recommended sentence, Tamera cried loudly and slumped over onto her husband’s chest.
Jacob Goodwin spent much of the hearing seated at the defense table looking down. Only once, when his mother let out an audible cry, did Jacob Goodwin look at his parents.
When the hearing ended, sheriff’s deputies led Jacob Goodwin out a back door to start his state prison sentence. Scott and Tamera Goodwin walked out of the courthouse, past a gaggle of reporters on the front steps and by protesters across the street, staying silent as the two grieving parents passed by.
The couple, arm-in-arm, then crossed through the park and into the shadow of Stonewall Jackson’s statue.