Judge Richard Moore imposed a sentence of 419 years plus life on James Alex Fields Jr., convicted of murder after the racist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.
A state jury in Charlottesville convicted the 22-year-old neo-Nazi in December of first-degree murder and nine counts of malicious wounding. Jurors recommended a life sentence plus 419 years in prison.
Moore agreed with the jury, telling the small but packed courtroom that Fields committed an act of terrorism.
Around three dozen survivors of the attack and their supporters attended the sentencing, at times crying and at least once applauding during the hearing. Fields sat with his attorneys, clad in a gray and white striped prison uniform.
“You have expressed yourself as a white supremacist, Mr. Fields. You have made choices. We all have choices – you made the wrong one,” the judge told the defendant.
Moore ordered the sentence to be served consecutively with the federal punishment, meaning Fields will have to serve the two back-to-back federal life sentences handed down June 28 before earning credit for serving any of his state sentence.
At least 30 other people were injured when Fields rammed his car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters that day.
Fields declined to address the court before being sentenced in Charlottesville Circuit Court, which is housed in the old Charlottesville Opera House one block away from a statue honoring Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. But the survivors of his attack spoke to both Fields and the court, sometimes in angry and defiant terms.
And, unlike the sentencing in federal court, there were no words of forgiveness for Fields.
Marcus Martin, a Charlottesville resident who sustained multiple injuries, including a broken leg, described feeling an ongoing rage, suffering depression and having repeated outbursts since Aug. 12, 2017.
“You have just enraged my anger,” Martin said. “You’re a f------ coward.”
At times, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina-Alice Antony tried to guide Martin through his testimony with questions. But Martin stared intently across the 10 feet of courtroom at Fields, who didn’t appear to return the gaze.
“I need you to look at me, dude,” Martin shouted at Fields as a Charlottesville Deputy Sheriff’s Officer stepped into the space between the two men. “Hey! Hey!”
“You can say what you need to say to the court,” the judge interrupted, attempting to regain order.
“You ran us down with a car. … You don’t deserve to be on this earth. You a f------ animal. You ain’t shit. You ain’t shit,” Martin said before walking out of the courtroom.
Jeanne “Star” Peterson, her pink hair a stark contrast to the seriousness of the courtroom, walked into court without help, something she wasn’t able to do during Fields’ trial in December.
“Hello scum,” Peterson said before being cut off by Moore.
“I will make sure Heather is not forgotten,” Peterson said. “It is not her fault he turned out to be a piece of feces.”
April Muniz witnessed Fields’ attack on a group of counterprotesters but wasn’t hit. Still, Muniz said, she bears mental scars from hearing bones crushed, people scream and seeing bodies fly through the air. Muniz described losing her job because of the inability to focus and being unable to experience happiness since that Saturday afternoon.
“It was like my psyche didn’t trust feeling joyful because joyful is what we were on that day,” Muniz said.
Charlottesville Commonwealth Attorney Joe Platania, speaking outside the courthouse after the hearing, said Fields’ actions rocked not just the survivors, but the entire community.
“There’s nobody who has been involved with this that’s not going to be personally impacted for the rest of their lives,” Platania said.
After the hearing, Susan Bro, Heyer’s mother, said she didn’t see or hear any remorse from Fields for his actions.
“I intend to keep a game face on,” Bro said outside the courthouse. “So I understand he may be trying to keep a game face on, too.”
During Fields’ state trial, “alt-right” adherents and users of message boards popular with white nationalists sought to debunk the prosecution theory of the case, spreading the myth that counterprotesters attacked Fields that day and that police lost control of the city. Greg Conte, the former operations director for the alt-right National Policy Institute, even covered Fields’ trial for the site Russia Insider.
Since the conviction and guilty plea, court records revealed that Fields’ maternal grandparents were Jewish, making him something of a pariah among the alt-right. No alt-right figures were present at the hearing or the press conference afterward, leaving no one to speak for Fields.
And, just as when Fields stood before a federal judge in June, only his attorneys were with him. Not even his mother was there to support her son.
Photo credit: AP Images/Alan Goffinski