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Charlottesville Driver Enters Surprising Plea

James Alex Fields Jr. admits it was a hate crime
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 27, 2019 4:18 PM CDT
Updated Mar 27, 2019 4:50 PM CDT
In this Aug. 12, 2017 file photo, people fly into the air as a vehicle is driven into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.   (Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress via AP, File)
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(Newser) – A man convicted on state murder charges in a deadly car attack at a white nationalist rally in Virginia pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal hate crime charges in a case that stirred racial tensions across the country, the AP reports. Under a plea agreement, James Alex Fields Jr., of Maumee, Ohio, pleaded guilty to 29 of 30 federal charges stemming from the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017. He did not plead guilty to one count that carried a potential death penalty. The plea is an important shift for Fields, whose lawyers had argued that he only drove rapidly into the crowd out of confusion and fear that he might be harmed, per the Washington Post. Fields appeared stoic Wednesday, with hands folded in front of him for much of the hearing.

Fields, 21, was convicted in December of first-degree murder and other state charges for killing anti-racism activist Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of others. A jury found that Fields—who described himself on social media as an admirer of Adolf Hitler—intentionally plowed his car into a crowd of people protesting against the white nationalists. More than 30 people were hurt in the car attack. Jurors in Fields' state trial recommended a life sentence plus 419 years, although a judge still has to decide on the punishment. Sentencing is scheduled for July 15. Fields faces a life sentence.

(Read more hate crime stories.)

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