Charlottesville killer pleads guilty to 29 hate crimes charges

The white nationalist convicted of killing Heather Heyer with his car in Virginia in 2017 pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes Wednesday, the Justice Department announced. 

James Fields Jr., a participant in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August 2017, killed Heyer, a counterprotester, and wounded numerous others when he drove his car into a crowd. He was convicted in December of first-degree murder, aggravated malicious wounding and one count of leaving the scene of an accident causing serious injury or death.   

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In the aftermath of the incident, President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden on Trump's refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power: 'What country are we in?' Romney: 'Unthinkable and unacceptable' to not commit to peaceful transition of power Two Louisville police officers shot amid Breonna Taylor grand jury protests MORE sparked a major controversy after he insisted some of the rally participants were “very fine people.”

Attorney General William BarrBill BarrHarris faces pivotal moment with Supreme Court battle Hillicon Valley: DOJ proposes tech liability shield reform to Congress | Treasury sanctions individuals, groups tied to Russian malign influence activities | House Republican introduces bill to set standards for self-driving cars McCarthy threatens motion to oust Pelosi if she moves forward with impeachment MORE said that Fields's "hate crimes are also acts of domestic terrorism" in a Wednesday statement.

“In the aftermath of the mass murder in New Zealand earlier this month, we are reminded that a diverse and pluralistic community such as ours can have zero tolerance for violence on the basis of race, religion, or association with people of other races and religions,” Barr said.

“Prosecuting hate crimes is a priority for me as Attorney General. The defendant in this case has pled guilty to 29 hate crimes which he committed by driving his car into a crowd of protesters."

Fields admitted to targeting the crowd because of their perceived and actual race, color, national origin and religion, according to the Justice Department, and admitted he intended to kill those he injured as well.

Fields was charged with 30 counts of federal hate crimes in June 2018, initially pleading not guilty in July. One of the charges carries a potential death sentence, which will be dropped in exchange for his guilty plea on the other 29, according to WTOP. The Justice Department statement did not mention the death penalty, and the agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

The jury that convicted Fields on the state charges last year recommended sentences of life in prison for first-degree murder, 70 years in prison for each of five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, 20 years for each of three counts of malicious wounding and nine years for hit and run. His sentencing in state court was scheduled for Friday but has been postponed until July.

Fields’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.