CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (WWBT) - A jury recommended Tuesday a life sentence for James Fields Jr., the man who killed Heather Heyer after plowing into a crowd during a Unite the Right Rally in August 2017.
Last week, a jury found Fields guilty of first-degree murder, aggravated malicious wounding, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of leaving the scene of an accident causing serious injury or death.
The jury recommended:
- Life in prison for 1st degree murder
- 70 years for each count of aggravated malicious wounding (5 counts)
- 20 years for each count of malicious wounding (3 counts)
- 9 years for hit and run
The jury also recommended fines of about $500,000.
“In the end the hands of justice say he needs to be put away and I am okay with that,” explained Susan Bro, Heather Heyer’s mother. “I don’t hate him, but my god the kid is messed up put him away--I’m sorry.”
Bro was emotional at times, talking about how difficult it has been sitting in on the trial and thinking about her daughter. She says Fields not only destroyed her family but also destroyed his own family from his actions.
“There were a few days where people held me while I just cried because it was a lot to listen to," she said. "I’ll always have a whole in my heart, but I have to continue to live.”
Bro says there is still social justice work to be done, the reason she continues to pour her heart into the Heather Heyer Foundation. They provide scholarships for young people who are involved in non violent social justice work.
“She would be excited that hate did not win, she would be excited that social justice does move forward - the biggest thing is that hate did not win today,” said Bro.
Several survivors and community members spoke after Fields sentence was handed down. Wednesday Bowie, who after the verdict Friday said she felt the best she had in a year and a half, had a message related to the mental health defense presented during Monday’s sentencing hearing.
“I have a personality disorder - and I have never hurt anyone in my life,” Bowie explained. “I want people to make better choices for the future and not be like James Fields.”
Marcus Martin, who was friends with Heyer, and hurt during the crash says he does not hate Fields but cannot forgive him.
“I’ve got screws in my legs, there’s a lot of people with injuries worse than mine - still in wheelchairs on crutches, that have metal rods, plates, multiple screws, still healing from what you did to us," said Martin.
Martin sat in almost every day of testimony and evidence, saying he “couldn’t get away,” and felt he needed to be there each day after testifying. Martin said he plans to continue to offer support and time to the Heyer Foundation, and fight hate with love.
“Gotta continue to fight the fight--the good fight, push for positivity," he explained.
Courtney Commander, Heyer’s friend, was with her counter protesting the day she died. Commander also sat in on almost every day of testimony, evidence, the verdict and sentencing, a difficult time, as she says it forced many to relive the dark days they experienced.
“I’ll never get my friend back and some of us will never fully recover from our injuries but I definitely feel a little bit higher now," Commander said.
She is focused now on doing even more social justice work in the community. Commander says Heyer was “gorgeous, her spirit is amazing.”
At Monday’s sentencing hearing, Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, took the stand said her daughter’s death was like an “explosion” in her family. She said Fields tried to “silence” her daughter with his car, and said: “I refuse to allow that.”
Jeanne “Star” Peterson told the jury her life has been “a living nightmare” since she was hit by Fields’ car, the Associated Press reports. Her right leg was shattered, and she’s had five surgeries to try to repair it. She also suffered a broken spine and still hasn’t been able to return to work.
Daniel Murrie, a psychologist and professor at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, told jurors Monday that Fields had inexplicable volatile outbursts as a young child and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 6, the AP reports. He was later diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder.
Murrie testified for the defense as jurors were asked to come up with a sentencing recommendation for Fields.
Murrie said Fields went off his psychiatric medication at age 18 and built an isolated “lifestyle centered around being alone.”
The two-week trial concluded Thursday as both sides delivered their closing arguments.
In closing statements, the commonwealth argued the case was about intent. Prosecutors said Fields used his car as a deadly weapon and that he acted with malice, intent and premeditation.
Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina-Alice Antony said there is no credible evidence of Fields' claim that his car was attacked.
Antony said Fields acted with hatred, and that same hatred can be seen in text messages sent to his mother before the rally. She told him to be careful and Fields replied with “we are not the ones who need to be careful” alongside a picture of Adolf Hitler.
The judge’s formal sentencing for Fields is scheduled to take place in July.