Charlottesville car attacker pleads for mercy in sentencing memo

Posted at 11:48 AM, Jun 24, 2019

The man who drove into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville's "Unite the Right" rally two years ago has pleaded for mercy and asked for a sentence less than life imprisonment in his federal hate crimes case.

In a sentencing memorandum filed in federal court Friday, James A. Fields Jr. said the court should not give him a life sentence because of his young age, history of mental illness and childhood trauma, and to show that no one is defined by their worst moments.

"James did not come to Charlottesville with any plan to commit an act of violence. In the space of only a few minutes, caught in circumstances he did not intend to create, he acted in an aggressive and impulsive manner consistent with his mental health history and his age," the memo reads.

"In a matter of seconds he caused irreparable harm for which there is no excuse. But this Court can understand his actions, without excusing them, as symptomatic of transient immaturity, and not consider them to be predictive of who he might be in the future with time and medication."

The memorandum notes that Fields' grandfather killed his grandmother and then himself, and that his father died in a car accident before Fields was born. His mother was in an accident that left her paraplegic before he was born and raised him as a single mother. The memo also says he has been taking medication since his imprisonment that has controlled his symptoms.

"No amount of punishment imposed on James can repair the damage he caused to dozens of innocent people. But this Court should find that retribution has limits," the memo states.

The memo comes ahead of his sentencing in his federal case, in which he pleaded guilty to 29 hate crimes in order to avoid the death penalty.

Fields was 20 when he attended the August 2017 demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, and joined white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other groups opposed to the city's decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. During a day of violent clashes in the city, Fields drove his vehicle into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal.

Fields was convicted in state court of first-degree murder and other charges, and the jury recommended a sentence of life in prison. He is due to be sentenced in that case on July 15, Commonwealth's Attorney Joseph Platania said in March.