Plea will take death penalty off table for man convicted in Charlottesville car attack

James Alex Fields Jr. will enter a plea to federal hate crimes Wednesday afternoon in federal court in Charlottesville, to avoid the possibility of the death penalty, sources familiar with the agreement tell WTOP.

Fields is already facing life in prison plus 419 years after being convicted in state court in December of first-degree murder and other charges related to the death of Heather Heyer and serious injuries caused to others along the Charlottesville Downtown Mall, during a 2017 white nationalist rally.

Fields is charged with 30 civil rights charges in his federal case. Court records list Wednesday’s hearing as a “change of plea” hearing.

Of the two federal counts related to Heyer’s death, the maximum penalty for “Hate Crime Act Resulting in Death,” is life in prison, but federal prosecutors also charged him with “Bias-Motivated Interference with Federally Protected Activity Resulting in Death,” which can be punishable by execution.

According to sources, the plea would have prosecutors drop the one death-eligible count, and have Fields plead guilty to the others.

Fields was originally due to be formally sentenced in state court this week, but court records show that hearing has now been postponed until July. Virginia judges typically follow jury recommendations for sentencing.

Brian McGann, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Western District of Virginia declined to discuss the plea specifics. Requests for comment from Fields’ attorney, Denise Lunsford, were not returned.

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

© 2019 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

Federal News Network Logo

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up