Advertisement
  1. Nation & World

State trial likely first for man charged in fatal car attack

James Alex Fields Jr.
Published Jul. 6, 2018

RICHMOND, Va. — A state trial likely will be held for a man accused in a deadly car attack on protesters opposing a white nationalist rally in Virginia before he's tried on federal hate crime charges that carry a possible death penalty.

In a joint motion filed Thursday, federal prosecutors and 21-year-old James Alex Fields Jr.'s defense attorneys said they need time to prepare for the "complex" federal case.

The two sides also said that the state trial — scheduled to begin Nov. 26 — and its outcome "may provide information that is material" to a determination by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions whether to seek the death penalty in the federal case.

Fields of Maumee, Ohio, is accused of killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of people on Aug. 12 after a "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville by driving his car into a crowd demonstrating against the rally. The event attracted hundreds of white nationalists to the college town where officials planned to remove a statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Fields faces murder and other charges under Virginia law. Last week, he was indicted on 30 federal charges. Twenty-nine of the counts were brought under a hate crimes law that carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

The 30th count was brought under a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. It accuses Fields of racially motivated violent interference with a federally protected activity — the use of the public streets and sidewalks of Charlottesville — resulting in death.

The charge can carry the death penalty. Prosecutors have not decided whether to seek it, and the process could take months.

The law requires prosecutors to prove not only that Fields acted because of the actual or perceived race or national origin of members of the crowd, but also that he was motivated by Heyer's use of the streets and sidewalks of Charlottesville.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said he believes federal prosecutors have agreed to let the state put Fields on trial first because it's a stretch for them to try to use the hate crimes statute that makes him eligible for the death penalty.

"It makes sense for them to wait until after the state trial because as the facts stand right now, it's an extremely tenuous death penalty claim," Dunham said.

"The fact that something is labeled a hate crime doesn't by itself make it a capital offense. There has to be more. The way the statute is written, on the facts of this case, it's not clear that there is any basis to seek the death penalty."

But Jonathan Turley, a professor at the George Washington University Law School, said he believes the decision to hold the state trial first is a good strategic move by prosecutors.

"The state is likely to produce a great deal of evidence that the federal prosecutors do not currently have," Turley said.

Fields pleaded not guilty Thursday to the federal charges.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. President Donald Trump meets with Italian President Sergio Mattarella in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, in Washington. EVAN VUCCI  |  AP
    “It’s not between Turkey and the United States, like a lot of stupid people would like you to believe,” Trump said.
  2. Democratic presidential candidate entrepreneur Andrew Yang and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, right, greet guests following the Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) JOHN MINCHILLO  |  AP
    Twelve candidates entered Tuesday’s debate each with something to prove. Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar left the biggest mark, according to most analysts.
  3. In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, smoke billows from targets in Ras al-Ayn, Syria, caused by bombardment by Turkish forces, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. Turkish artillery on Tuesday pounded suspected Syrian Kurdish positions near the town in northeast Syria amid reports that Kurdish fighters had retaken the town as Turkey pressed ahead with a military incursion that has drawn widespread condemnation. LEFTERIS PITARAKIS  |  AP
    Russia has moved quickly to further entrench its leadership role in the region after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the pullout of American forces in northeastern Syria.
  4. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, right, accompanied by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, speaks about the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. ANDREW HARNIK  |  AP
    Speaker Nancy Pelosi, despite intensifying calls from Trump and Republicans to hold a formal vote to authorize the impeachment inquiry, showed no indication she would do so.
  5. Former White House advisor on Russia, Fiona Hill, leaves Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019, after testifying before congressional lawmakers as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. MANUEL BALCE CENETA  |  AP
    The aide, Fiona Hill, testified for more than 10 hours on Monday as part of the Democrats’ impeachment probe into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
  6. In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, smoke and dust billows from targets in Ras al-Ayn, Syria, caused by bombardment by Turkish forces, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. Turkish artillery on Tuesday pounded suspected Syrian Kurdish positions near the town in northeast Syria amid reports that Kurdish fighters had retaken the town as Turkey pressed ahead with a military incursion that has drawn widespread condemnation. CAVIT OZGUL         |  AP
    Russia moved quickly to further entrench its role as a power broker after President Donald Trump ordered the pullout of American forces in northeastern Syria.
  7. Former White House advisor on Russia, Fiona Hill, leaves Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019, after testifying before congressional lawmakers as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. MANUEL BALCE CENETA  |  AP
    Fiona Hill made the remarks on Monday as she testified for more than 10 hours in the Democratic inquiry.
  8. A Turkish forces tank is driven to its new position after was transported by trucks, on a road towards the border with Syria in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. Syrian troops entered several northern towns and villages Monday, getting close to the Turkish border as Turkey's army and opposition forces backed by Ankara marched south in the same direction, raising concerns of a clash between the two sides as Turkey's invasion of northern Syria entered its sixth day. EMRAH GUREL  |  AP
    Trump said the approximately 1,000 U.S. troops who had been partnering with local Kurdish fighters to battle the Islamic State in northern Syria are leaving the country.
  9. The 12 Democratic presidential candidates in the next debate are, from top left, Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, and, from lower left, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang. Los Angeles Times
    The field is still thick with 12 candidates set to debate Tuesday night. Here’s what to watch for.
  10. Amber Carr, center, wipes a tear as her sister, Ashley Carr, left, and attorney Lee Merritt, right, listen to their brother Adarius Carr talk about their sister, Atatiana Jefferson during a news conference Monday, Oct. 14, 2019 in downtown Dallas. The family of the 28-year-old black woman who was shot and killed by a white police officer in her Fort Worth home as she played video games with her 8-year-old nephew expressed outrage that the officer has not been arrested or fired. (Irwin Thompson/The Dallas Morning News via AP) AP
    The white, former Fort Worth police officer has been booked in jail on a murder charge for the shooting of a black woman through a window in her home.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement