The self-avowed white supremacist who ploughed his car into protesters opposing a far-right rally in Virginia two years ago, killing one person and injuring dozens of others, has asked a judge for mercy and a sentence shorter than life in prison.
James Alex Fields Jr’s legal team has argued in a new sentencing memo that the 22-year-old defendant should not spend his entire life in prison because of his age, a traumatic childhood and a history of mental illness.
Fields has pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes in relation to the Charlottesville attack and is set to be sentenced on 28 June.
“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,” his attorneys wrote in a court document submitted on Friday.
Fields’ attorneys said that giving him something less than a life sentence would be akin to an “expression of mercy” and a “conviction that no individual is wholly defined by their worst moments”.
The attorneys highlighted his difficult upbringing and history of mental illness, but many of the details were redacted. The document did reveal he was raised by a paraplegic single mother and suffered “trauma” by growing up knowing his Jewish grandfather had murdered his grandmother before committing suicide.
In their own sentencing memo, prosecutors said Fields had shown no remorse since he drove the car into the counter-demonstrators on 12 August, 2017, killing anti-racism activist Heather Heyer and injuring others protesting against the white nationalists.
They argued that Fields deserves a life sentence, adding that would help deter others from committing “similar acts of domestic terrorism”.
Prosecutors focused on years of documented racist and antisemitic behaviour by Fields, which they said included keeping a picture of Adolf Hitler on his bedside table. They also said that he was recorded on a jail phone call making disparaging remarks about Ms Heyer’s mother as recently as last month.
They also argued that while Fields has a history of mental illness issues, it did not excuse his behaviour in a way that would demand a lenient sentence. “Any mental health concerns raised by the defendant do not overcome the defendant’s demonstrated lack of remorse and his prior history of substantial racial animus,” prosecutors wrote.
Under a plea deal, federal prosecutors agreed not to pursue the death penalty against Fields after he pleaded in March to federal hate crime charges and admitted that he intentionally drove his car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters.
The charges he pleaded guilty to call for life in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.
In December last year he was convicted in a Virginia court of first-degree murder and other state charges for killing Ms Heyer and injuring others who were protesting. Sentencing on the state charges is scheduled for next month.
The 2017 rally drew hundreds of white nationalists to Charlottesville to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Hundreds of counter-protesters demonstrated against the white nationalists.
Donald Trump infamously said there were “very fine people on both sides” of the clashes in the Virginia city.
Additional reporting by AP