Jury sentences Fields to life in prison for murder

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Twelve jurors have decided that James Fields, Jr. should spend the rest of his life in prison for the murder of Heather Heyer on Aug. 12, 2017.

Last week, Fields was convicted of ten charges in connection to the car attack that resulted in Heyer's death and injuries to several others, including first-degree murder.

In total, Fields has been sentenced to life plus 419 years in prison if the judge follows the jury's recommendation.

Along with the life sentence for the first-degree murder, Fields has been fined $100,000.

For each count of aggravated malicious wounding, of which there were five, he was sentenced to 70 years in prison and a $70,000 fine.

For each of the three malicious wounding charges, he will spend 20 years in prison and has been fined $10,000.

Fields was also sentenced to nine years in prison for leaving the scene of a fatal accident.

The fines total $480,000.

On Tuesday morning, the jury had some questions regarding sentencing guidelines, specifically if they could impose a punishment where the sentences would run concurrently.

The judge responded that is typically how sentences run in Virginia, but he could make a note of that in their sentencing recommendation.

The jury also asked about early geriatric release, for which Fields could apply when he turns 65 if he is still in prison at the time.

Virginia abolished parole for felons for crimes that were committed after 1994, but the judge says members of the jury can't concern themselves with matters that will happen after a sentence is imposed.

If he had been sentenced to the minimum, Fields would have faced 136 years in prison. He could have also faced up to six life sentences in prison.

Fields will be formally sentenced by the judge in March. While the judge can impose a shorter sentence, he cannot impose a longer one.

The Commonwealth's Attorney's Office and Susan Bro, Heyer's mother, held a press conference now that a sentence has been recommended.

“This trial and today's outcome has been a very long time coming for the victims and their family members,” said Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Joe Platania. “We are unable to heal their physical injuries or bring Heather back but we are hopeful they will be able to take some measure of comfort and solace from these convictions and sentences.”

He thanked the many people who came to testify int he case, especially the victims who had to re-live that day and who are still suffering from the effects of it.

"Hopefully the outcome achieved today is Charlottesville's small part in rejecting and holding accountable those whose violent acts against others are fueled by hatred," added Platania.

Bro then took to the podium to speak about the trial, saying she would not be consumed by hate for Fields, but she would leave his fate in the hands of justice.

"I thank the jury for their careful and thoughtful work. I thank his defense team for putting up a defense and trying to help the young man but in the end, the hands of justice say that he needs to be kept away from society for a while, and I am content with that," she said.

However, she also said more must be done on several levels, including social justice and civil rights.

"Let's take heart in the fact that we have won a victory today, but keep in mind that we must, must, must put direct action to our words," said Bro. "I'm tired of catchphrases, I'm tired of people making nice sounding words and nothing happen."

Two victims who were victims of Fields' aggravated malicious wounding also spoke.

Star Peterson has had five surgeries on her shattered leg, and still relies mostly on a wheelchair. She said she is satisfied with the life sentence in Heyer's death.

"Getting the maximum sentence reflected the severity and the atrocity of that crime," she said.

Wednesday Bowie, whose pelvis was broken in six places in the car attack, described her own mental health diagnosis and disputed defense testimony about Fields' mental illness as an explanation for his behavior.

"I would like to say that racism and allegiance to President [Donald] Trump are not mental illnesses," she said. "They are choices, and I don't think that they are the correct choice for America."

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