Neo-Nazi Charlottesville killer asks for mercy
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A man convicted in a deadly car attack on a crowd of people protesting against a white nationalist rally in Virginia has asking a federal court for mercy and a punishment shorter than a life sentence.
Attorneys for James Alex Fields Jr. said in a sentencing memo Friday that he does not deserve to spend the rest of his life in prison because of his young age, traumatic childhood, and mental illness. The attorneys said that giving Fields 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."
But prosecutors said Friday the Hitler admirer has shown no remorse for his crimes and deserves a life sentence, which they said would help deter others from committing "similar acts of domestic terrorism."
The dueling memos were filed week before he is set to be sentenced on June 28.
Fields' case has stirred racial tensions across the country. The self-avowed white supremacist pleaded in March to federal hate crime charges and admitted that he intentionally plowed his speeding car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters, killing a woman and injuring dozens.
Under a plea deal, federal prosecutors agreed not to pursue the death penalty against Fields. The charges he pleaded guilty to call for life in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.
Fields, 22, was convicted in December in a Virginia court of first-degree murder and other state charges for killing anti-racism activist Heather Heyer and injuring others who were protesting against the white nationalists. Sentencing on the state charges is set for next month.
The rally drew hundreds of white nationalists to Charlottesville to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Hundreds of counterprotesters demonstrated against the white nationalists.
President Donald Trump sparked a national uproar when he blamed the violence at the rally on "both sides," a statement critics saw as a refusal to condemn racism.
In Friday's memo, Fields' attorneys highlighted his difficult upbringing, but with much of the details redacted from public viewing. He was raised by a paraplegic single mother and suffered "trauma" by growing up knowing that his Jewish grandfather had murdered his grandmother before committing suicide, his lawyers said.
"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.
Prosecutors focused on years of documented racist and anti-Semitic behavior by Fields, which they said included keeping a picture of Adolf Hitler on his bedside table. They said he was recorded on a jail phone call making disparaging remarks about Heyer's mother as recently as last month.
Prosecutors also said that while Fields has a history of mental illness issues, it doesn't excuse his behavior in a way that would require 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.