US & Canada

Jury recommends life in prison for Charlottesville driver

James Alex Fields Jr., (L) is seen attending the "Unite the Right" rally in Emancipation Park before being arrested by police Image copyright Reuters
Image caption James Alex Fields Jr is seen attending the "Unite the Right" rally in Emancipation Park before being arrested by police

Jurors say a man who drove his car into a crowd of protesters in Virginia last year, killing a woman, should serve a life sentence plus 419 years in prison.

Following two days of deliberation, a jury recommended on Tuesday that James Alex Fields Jr, 21, also pay $480,000 (£383,000) in fines for his crimes.

Last week, the jury convicted Fields of murder and causing serious injury at the Charlottesville alt-right rally.

He still faces a number of hate crime charges in a separate federal trial.

Fields, from Ohio, was convicted by a Charlottesville jury on Friday of first degree murder, aggravated malicious wounding and leaving the scene of a fatal crash.

Heather Heyer, 32, died last year when Fields' car hit a group of people protesting against a white nationalist rally.

In Virginia, juries make sentencing recommendations, but ultimately, a judge must ratify the sentence. WVIR News reported that the judge will formally sentence Fields in March.

During the trial, jurors heard emotional testimony from Heyer's mother as well as others who were injured during the attack.

Wednesday Bowie, a woman who suffered serious injuries including a broken pelvis, told the court "the world is not a safe place with Mr Fields in it", according to the Associated Press.

Image copyright Albermarle Country Jail / AFP
Image caption Fields' defence argued he acted out of fear for his own safety

The defence and prosecution both agreed that Fields had driven his vehicle into counter-protesters in Charlottesvile, Virginia, last August, but they disputed his intent.

Fields's lawyer John Hill argued that he acted out of fear for his own safety after the rally descended into chaos, citing a long history of Fields' psychiatric conditions, including bipolar disorder, US media reported.

He added that Fields had expressed remorse over the incident.

Prosecutor Nina Antony showed photos of cars hitting groups of people posted months earlier on Fields' Instagram as evidence his actions were pre-meditated and not motivated by self-protection.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption A street sign renamed in honour of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, a year after she was killed

No trial date has been set for Fields' federal trial. It is unclear whether federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty for his 30 hate crime charges.

What's the background?

The "Unite the Right" rally was one of the largest white supremacist gathering in America in decades.

Dozens were injured in the violence that erupted between white nationalists and counter-protesters.

The march was organised to protest against plans to remove a statue of a general who had fought for the pro-slavery Confederacy during the US Civil War.

Graphic video of the incident involving Mr Fields's car was widely shared on social media.

Image copyright Ryan M Kelly /The Daily Progress
Image caption Prosecutors said Fields purposefully drove his car into the crowd

More on this story