The man accused of driving a car through a group of peaceful protesters in Charlottesville, Va., last year has entered a plea of not guilty in federal court. James Alex Fields Jr., who is accused of 30 federal hate crimes, entered his plea Thursday. Prosecutors say the Ohio man's actions left 32-year-old Heather Heyer dead, and dozens others injured, during the protest of a white nationalist rally Aug. 12. Per the Daily Progress, the 21-year-old suspect told Judge Joel Hoppe that he understood the charges and that he'd been diagnosed with a string of mental health issues, including bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety. However, according to the AP, he also told the judge that the drugs he takes for these conditions do not impair his ability to understand the charges against him. Fields also faces separate charges filed by Virginia.
Judge Hoppe said Fields was qualified to be represented by a federal public defender and appointed legal counsel for him. Fields said he has a high school education and has worked as a security guard. Some survivors of the attack were among the dozens of people in the courtroom. Also present was Heyer's mother, Susan Bro. Talking with news reporters outside the courthouse, Bro said she expected a not-guilty plea at this stage of the case, but added she still "felt a little punched in the gut." She also said she was a bit surprised that Fields' voice sounded more assertive than she expected. "I just somehow expected him to sound more timid and abashed, but he didn't sound like it at all," Bro said. The "Unite the Right" rally drew hundreds of white nationalists to the college town, and hundreds more came out to protest against the white nationalists.
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