Neo-Nazi who killed activist after ramming car into protesters in Charlottesville jailed for life

James Alex Fields Jr killed Heather Heyer and injured 29 others when he drove into protesters at a white supremacist rally

James Alex Fields Jr., (L) is seen attending the 'Unite the Right' rally in Emancipation Park before being arrested by police and charged with charged with one count of second degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of failing to stop at an accident that resulted in a death after police say he drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters later in the afternoon in Charlottesville, Virginia, US, on August 12, 2017. REUTERS
James Alex Fields Jr., (L) is seen attending the 'Unite the Right' rally in Emancipation Park before being arrested by police and charged with charged with one count of second degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of failing to stop at an accident that resulted in a death after police say he drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters later in the afternoon in Charlottesville, Virginia, US, on August 12, 2017. REUTERS

An American neo-Nazi who killed an activist when he rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters during a white supremacist rally was jailed for life without possibility the of parole on Friday.

James Alex Fields Jr, 22, had pleaded guilty to 29 federal hate crime charges in March in a deal with prosecutors that eliminated the possibility of a death sentence.

The charges were linked to the 29 people wounded when he drove his car through a crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017, when he killed 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer.

A federal judge imposed a life sentence on the self-described neo-Nazi saying release would be "too great a risk."

Fields, of Maumee, Ohio, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. He had sought a lesser sentence, apologising after the court viewed a video of him plowing his car into a crowd after the August 12, 2017, "Unite the Right" rally.

US District Judge Michael Urbanski said: "The release of the defendant into a free society is too great a risk."

The rally proved a critical moment in the rise of the "alt-right," a loose alignment of fringe groups centered on white nationalism and emboldened by President Donald Trump's 2016 election.

Trump was criticised from the left and right for initially saying there were "fine people on both sides" of the dispute between neo-Nazis and their opponents at the rally. Subsequent alt-right gatherings failed to draw crowds the size of the Charlottesville rally.

Heyer's parents described the grief of losing their daughter.

"It was an incident I will never fully recover from," her father, Mark Heyer said.

Her mother, Susan Bro, described herself as "deeply wounded" and recounted crying uncontrollably at times.

Ahead of Friday's sentencing hearing, prosecutors noted that Fields had long espoused violent beliefs.

Less than a month before the attack he posted an image on Instagram showing a car plowing through a crowd of people captioned: "You have the right to protest but I'm late for work."

Even after the attack, Fields remained unrepentant, prosecutors said, noting that in a Decmber 2017 phone call from jail with his mother, he blasted Bro for her activism after the attack.

"She is a communist. An anti-white liberal," Fields said, according to court papers filed by prosecutors.

He rejected his mother's plea to consider that the woman had "lost her daughter," replying, "She's the enemy."

Fields pleaded guilty to the federal hate crime charges in March under a deal with prosecutors, who agreed not to seek the death penalty.

He was photographed hours before the attack carrying a shield with the emblem of a far-right hate group. He has identified himself as a neo-Nazi.

Fields' attorneys suggested he felt intimidated and acted to protect himself. They asked for mercy, citing his relative youth and history of mental health diagnoses.

Updated: June 29, 2019 10:41 AM

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