The man arrested for allegedly plowing his car into a crowd, injuring more than two dozen people and killing a woman on purpose at the violent Charlottesville White supremacy rally in August was charged with first-degree murder Thursday, The Washington Post reported. James Alex Fields Jr., a self-admitted Neo Nazi, had been behind bars for a lesser second-degree homicide charge. The upgraded first-degree indictment means that he is now facing 20 years to life in prison.
Authorities took Fields into custody on August 12 in the death of Heather Heyer, 32, who was killed when the man allegedly rammed his 2010 Dodge Challenger into another vehicle during the so-called “Unite the Right” rally. The move, harming more than 30 counterprotesters who were sent flying as a result of the collision in a downtown intersection, was intentional, police believed. Heyer’s death further bloodied a day of racist hate captured in numerous videos.
Fields, who was also charged with eight counts of “aggravated malicious wounding,” may have to appear before a grand jury, who may initiate a trial if they formally indict him.
Investigators determined that Fields had traveled to Charlottesville alone from his home in Maumee, Ohio, police detective Steven Young said. Though no evidence was found of the man’s affiliation with any White supremacist groups involved in the demonstration, he does have a “long history of fascination with and admiration for the racist ideology and militarism of Nazi Germany,” according to his acquaintances in his hometown of Kentucky and Ohio, where he moved as an adult. “Investigators want to know whether Fields crossed state lines with the intent to commit violence,” NPR previously reported.
The announcement of the elevated murder charge comes after Charlottesville police were found at fault for ignoring some of the racially tinged violence in August. Blacks were targets of violence during the rally, where counterprotester Deandre Harris, 24, was brutally beaten by White supremacists.