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Driver pleads guilty to federal hate crimes in death of Heather Heyer at white nationalist rally in Charlottesville

Posted at 4:02 PM, Mar 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-27 17:23:14-04

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- James Alex Fields, who was convicted by a Virginia jury of driving into a crowd during a 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, entered guilty pleas to 29 federal hate crimes. In exchange for the guilty pleas, the death penalty was removed as a possible punishment.

James Alex Fields Jr.

Fields had initially pleaded not guilty to the federal hate crimes charges, including an alleged act resulting in the death of 32-year-old counterprotester Heather Heyer.

Now the maximum penalty he faces for the federal crimes is life in prison.

A Virginia jury in December found Fields guilty of killing Heyer, among other crimes, and recommended a sentence of life in prison.

That sentencing hearing, previously scheduled for Friday, has been continued to July 15, Commonwealth's Attorney Joseph Platania said.

Fields 'drove directly into the crowd,' feds allege

Fields took to social media before the rally on August 12, 2017, and "expressed and promoted his belief that white people are superior to other races and peoples; expressed support of the social and racial policies of Adolf Hitler and Nazi-era Germany, including the Holocaust; and espoused violence against African Americans, Jewish people and members of other racial, ethnic and religious groups he perceived to be non-white," according to the federal indictment.

The day before the rally, as Fields prepared to leave his home in Maumee, Ohio, to travel to Charlottesville, he got a text from a family member urging him to be careful, the indictment said.

"We're not the ones who need to be careful," Fields responded, attaching a photo of Hitler, according to the indictment.

Once in Charlottesville, Fields joined protesters who had gathered to denounce the removal of a Confederate statue from a city park in "chants promoting or expressing white supremacist and other racist and anti-Semitic views," the indictment said.

Later, as Fields drove along the streets of Charlottesville in his Dodge Challenger, he encountered a crowd of racially and ethnically diverse people chanting and carrying signs promoting equality, the indictment said.

Members of the Charlottesville community and protest groups mourn near a makeshift memorial for Heather Heyer, who was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

"Fields rapidly accelerated, through a stop sign and across a raised pedestrian mall, and drove directly into the crowd. Fields's vehicle stopped only when it struck another vehicle near the intersection of Fourth and Water Streets. Fields then rapidly reversed his car and fled the scene," according to the indictment.

This is a developing story.