Jury Recommends Life Sentence for Neo-Nazi Who Drove Into Crowd

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on December 13, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A Charlottesville, Virginia jury recommended life plus 419 years in prison, to be served consecutively, for the self-avowed neo-Nazi who ran his car into a crowd of counter-protesters at a white supremacist rally last year, killing one and injuring 35 others. James Alex Fields, Jr. of Maumee, Ohio, was found guilty of murder for the killing of Heather Heyer, as well as aggravated malicious wounding, malicious wounding, and leaving the scene of a fatal crash. Fields can have his sentence decreased, but not increased, when he faces sentencing from Judge Richard Moore on March 29, 2019. Fields must still face related federal hate crime charges; if convicted of those, he could face the death penalty.

Jury Took Four Hours to Hand Down Over Four Hundred Years

The jury only deliberated four hours in determining this sentence. They awarded life for first-degree murder, and seventy years for each of five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, as well as twenty years for each of three counts of malicious wounding, and nine years for leaving the scene of a fatal crash. He was also fined $480,000. Fields sat without emotion as the sentence was read. Fields's attorney tried to claim that he drove his car into the crowd in self-defense, based on feelings of intimidation by a hostile counter-protest crowd, but that defense was rejected by the jury. Though Fields' has a history of depression and schizophrenia, and had been off his medications for two years, his mental state did not rise to the level necessary to meet mental incompetency standards.

Why Such a Lengthy Sentence?

You may be wondering why a jury would hand down life plus 419 years, when, after all, Fields only has one life to live. There are a multitude of reasons. First, sometimes "life" means that a person could be eligible for parole after 25 years. To make sure someone stays in jail for the rest of their life, juries may need to tack on some extra years. Also, if, by chance, Fields is able to overturn some or most of these convictions on appeal, he will still serve hefty jail time even if left with just one conviction. A final reason is that this sentence sounds extreme, and it's meant to. Prison sentences are not only meant to serve as specific deterrents, meaning deterring this person from ever committing another crime. They are also meant to be general deterrents. By handing down such a grand sentence, if it deters just one other person from committing the same crime, it will have served a major purpose.

If you or someone you love has been convicted of a crime, contact a local criminal defense attorney. As you can see, one bad move can cost you a lifetime in prison, and then some. A legal adviser can potentially help you minimize your punishment.

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