About a year ago, James Alex Fields, Jr., was arrested on suspicion of being the driver who hit a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. Heather Heyer died. Where is Fields now? He’s still facing potential trials for the charges filed against him. He was accused of driving 550 miles to a Unite the Right rally on August 12, 2017, in Charlottesville and hitting protesters with his Dodge Challenger. When a video from someone who was there was first released, there were arguments about whether he hit protesters purposefully or panicked. In December, he was charged with first degree murder and assault. Here are the latest updates on Fields.
1. James Alex Fields, Jr. Has Been in Custody Since the 2017 Protests & His State Trial in Charlottesville Begins in November
Court filings reveal that Fields’ state trial in Charlottesville Circuit Court is scheduled to begin on November 26, Newsweek reported. Fields has been in custody ever since the terrible tragedy in Charlottesville last year, Cincinnati.com reported.
In his state trial, he faces 10 charges in Virginia. On December 18, a Charlottesville grand jury indicted him on 10 charges: first-degree murder, five counts of malicious wounding, three counts of aggravated malicious wounding, and failing to stop at the scene of a crash, Richmond.com reported.
These charges came after footage was shared from a fixed-angle security camera in downtown Charlottesville, adding to the footage released the day of the attack from someone who was at the scene. Surveillance video from a restaurant showed his car driving slowly in the direction of the counterprotesters, then reversing and then speeding forward, The Chicago Tribune reported. Surveillance from a Virginia State Police helicopter, which prosecutors played in court, showed the moment of impact and the car reversing and driving away.
His attorney has said that Fields is remorseful over what happened and was a loner, not connected with the groups he was pictured with at the rally. His attorney said he was at the rally only because he wanted to see one particular speaker, Southern Poverty Law Center reported. Charlottesville Police Chief Steven Young said that when Fields was detailed, he asked if people were OK. When he was told someone died, he was shocked and began sobbing, The Chicago Tribune reported.
2. Federal Prosecutors Filed 30 Hate Crime Charges Against Fields in June, & He Might Face the Death Penalty
In June, federal prosecutors filed 30 hate crime charges against Fields, saying that he “rapidly accelerated through a stop sign and across a raised pedestrian mall, and drove directly into the crowd … [and] stopped only when it struck another vehicle near the intersection.” The charges include one hate crime count for Heyer’s death and 28 hate crime charges for attempts to kill others, Fox News reported. An additional count accuses fields of racially motivated violent interference in a federally protected activity.
He could face the death penalty if found guilty of the hate crime charge related to Heyer’s death. The outcome of his state trial might help the U.S. Attorney General decide if he will seek the death penalty in Fields’ federal trial, Richmond.com reported. The federal trial has not yet been scheduled.
The indictment stated that before he left for Charlottesville, a relative texted and asked him to be careful. He replied: “We’re not the ones who need to be careful,” and included a photo of Hitler, Cincinnati.com reported. Prosecutors said that he was photographed with a shield that had an emblem of a hate group, hours before he was accused of hitting protesters with his car.
The indictment also stated that on his social media accounts, Fields “expressed and promoted his belief that white people are superior to other races and peoples; expressed support of the social and racial policies of Adolf Hitler and Nazi-era Germany, including the Holocaust; and espoused violence against African Americans, Jewish people and members of other racial; ethnic and religious groups he perceived to be non-white.”
He pleaded not guilty to those federal hate crime charges on July 5, 2018. His attorneys did not request bail.
Fields is also facing a federal civil suit, in addition to the criminal charges filed against him. He requested an attorney to advise him on the civil suit, and his request was granted. Jason Kessler was also named a defendant in that same federal suit, Southern Poverty Law Center reported.
3. Fields Has Been Treated for Bipolar Disorder, Depression, & Anxiety
When asked by a U.S. District Court judge whether he had ever been treated for mental illness, Fields said he had been treated for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and ADHD, The New York Times reported.
Derek Weimer, a high school teacher of Fields’, had said that Fields was diagnosed with schizophrenia and had been on anti-psychotic medication, Richmond.com reported.
James Fields was briefly on active duty status with the Army, but only from August 18, 2015 to December 11, 2015. His mother had posted on Facebook about her son going to boot camp and being really happy about it. An Army spokesman told CNN that Fields didn’t meet the training standards and was never awarded a military occupational skill or assigned a unit outside of basic training.
4. Fields’ Father Was Killed by a Drunk Driver, & His Mother Had Called 911 Before About Her Son
Fields, 20 when he was arrested, was raised by a single mom after his dad was killed by a drunk driver shortly after he was born. His father left Fields money that his uncle had kept in a trust until Fields was 18, an uncle told The Washington Post.
When he turned 18, he demanded his money, and that was the last I had any contact with him.”
911 transcripts show that Fields’ mom, Samantha Bloom, had called 911 twice in the past, saying that he beat her and threatened her with a knife, AP reported. Florence Police Department records said a call was made in 2011. She said her son was holding a 12-inch knife. An earlier call from 2010 showed Bloom saying the Fields had smacked her head and locked her in a bathroom. He did this because she told him to stop playing video games, she said in the call. She said in the call that he was taking medication to control his temper.
After she learned about the crash, Bloom said that she only knew he was going to the rally but nothing else. The Toledo Blade talked with Bloom, as did AP. She said that Fields had texted her on Friday saying he dropped his cat off at her apartment and was going to an “alt-right” rally in Virginia. She said he didn’t say anything about the rally possibly being extremist and she had no idea he was involved when she returned home from dinner on Saturday night. She really didn’t know what the alt-right rally meant.
5. Teachers & Former Classmates Said Fields Had Radical Views & a Fondness for Hitler
One of Fields’ former classmates said that he used to draw swastikas in class, WLWT5 reported. “It’s kind of shocking,” she said, not wanting her name to be used. “You don’t see that every day. We went through a war. We fought this. We sent people to end something like this and not to perpetuate it.”
Caitlin Wilson, a former classmate in middle school, said that he used to talk about loving Hitler and would draw swastikas. She said she wasn’t shocked when she saw his mugshot, Cincinnati.com reported.
CNN reported that Derek Weimer, a social studies teacher at Randall K. Cooper High School, said Fields had radical beliefs when he taught him as a junior and senior in high school. Weimer told CNN:
It was quite clear he had some really extreme views and maybe a little bit of anger behind them. Feeling, what’s the word I’m looking for, oppressed or persecuted. He really bought into this white supremacist thing. He was very big into Nazism. He really had a fondness for Adolf Hitler.”
One of Fields’ former classmates, Keegan McGrath, told AP that Fields had said he went on a school trip to Germany because he wanted to “get to the Fatherland.” They were roommates on the trip in 2015. McGrath said he went home early, unable to handle rooming with Fields. Before that, Fields had been acting normally and never did anything unusual, McGrath said. But on the trip, Fields refused to visit France or interact with the French because he referred to the French as “being lower than us and inferior to us,” McGrath said. When McGrath challenged him, things grew heated between the two, he said. He added the Fields was never an outcast at school and had friends.
Fields does not appear to have a previous criminal history. He last lived in Maumee, Ohio, about 15 miles southwest of Toledo. He was working as a security officer for Securitas Security Services USA and was on previously requested vacation time when the crash occurred. Securitas said in a brief statement that he has since been fired.
According to witnesses, counter protesters were hit as they turned a corner during their protest march. They were chanting things like “our streets” in response to the words “Unite the Right.” This happened after police had dispersed a group of white nationalists, CBS reported.