On August 12, 2017, James Alex Fields Jr. plowed his car into a crowd that was peacefully protesting the infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., injuring 28 people and killing 32-year-old activist Heather Heyer.
Nearly two years later, Fields, the white supremacist who was convicted of murder in that deadly car attack on counter-protesters, pleaded guilty to 29 federal hate crime charges on Wednesday in a desperate attempt to avoid the death penalty.
According to NBC News, a 30th charge, which was brought under a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and would’ve included a potential death sentence, was dropped.
It had accused Fields of “racially motivated violent interference with a federally protected activity”—which in this instance was the counter-protesters using the public streets and sidewalks of Charlottesville.
While Heyer was the only one to lose her life as a result of Fields’ heinous actions, he admitted his intention to kill others, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
After the hearing, Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, expressed indifference at the deal that spared the life of her daughter’s killer.
“There’s no point in killing him,” she told reporters. “It would not bring back Heather.”
U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, Thomas Cullen, required the ultimate approval from Attorney General William Barr in order to finalize his plea bargain with Fields. He also made it a point to denote that “hate crimes are also acts of domestic terrorism.”
“Attorney General Barr sent me a letter on Friday authorizing and directing me not to seek the death penalty pursuant to the plea agreement,” Cullen told reporters. “Given all the facts and circumstances, life imprisonment, or the potential of life imprisonment, was an acceptable result. We also believe it vindicates the victims on Fourth and Water Street.”
Cullen expressed hope that this deal will spare survivors the horror of reliving that fateful day.
“We talked to them (survivors of the deadly attack) at every step along the way,” Cullen told reporters. “Any time that you can save victims from having to go through a trial a second time […] you recognize the benefit of a life sentence.”
“This guilty plea underscores that we won’t stand for hate and violence in our communities,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement. “Together with our law enforcement and community partners, we’ll continue to aggressively investigate hate crimes, domestic terrorism and civil rights violations.”
Fields will return to court on July 3 to be sentenced.