Charlottesville car rammer changes plea to guilty in federal hate crimes case

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The man accused of running his car into a crowd of counterprotesters during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville has now changed his plea in a move that is seen to be an effort to avoid the death penalty.

James Alex Fields Jr. appeared in federal court Wednesday for a change of plea hearing. Fields, 21, changed his plea from not guilty to guilty.

By changing his plea from not guilty to guilty, it takes the possibility of receiving the death penalty off the table, according ABC affiliate station WHSV.

Fields admitted during the hearing that he violated federal hate crime laws when he targeted the group.

This comes in connection to 30 federal hate crimes charges that Fields faces, which he initially pleaded not guilty to in July 2018.

One of those 30 charges carries the death penalty but prosecutors have yet to say whether or not they would seek capital punishment, the AP reported.

In addition to the federal charges, Fields was found guilty in state court in connection to the death of Heather Heyer, a counterprotester who was killed after Fields drove his car into the crowd, as well as injuring dozens of others at the scene of the Aug. 12, 2017, rally.

Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, told The Associated Press that she planned to attend the hearing and she hoped that he would be changing his plea to guilty so that there wouldn’t be another trial wherein she would have to listen to “more of the hateful rhetoric.”

“I’m hoping this can be the end of it,” Bro said to the AP.

In the state trial, jurors recommended a life sentence plus 419 years in prison, but the official sentencing will be determined by a judge, the AP reported. That sentencing is slated for July 15.

At the time of the protest, a group of white nationalists, which included neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members, descended onto Charlottesville, spurred by the city’s plans to remove a Confederate statue from a downtown park. Violence broke out as counterprotesters clashed with white nationalists, prompting Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to declare a state of emergency.

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