Jury finds James Fields guilty of first-degree murder and nine other crimes by driving his car into a crowd, killing one and wounding of 19 others, in Charlottesville, Virginia last year.

This undated file photo provided by the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail shows James Alex Fields Jr.
This undated file photo provided by the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail shows James Alex Fields Jr. (AP Archive)

Jurors told a judge on Tuesday that life in prison is appropriate for a man who rammed his car into counter-protesters at a white nationalist rally last year in US state of Virginia.

James Alex Fields Jr, 21, stood stoically with his hands folded in front of him as a court clerk read the verdict, which now must be taken under advisement by the judge, who will issue the final sentence. 

Judge Richard Moore scheduled a sentencing hearing for March 29.

The jury recommended a sentence of life for first-degree murder in the killing of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal and activist, and also recommended a total of 419 years for his convictions on nine counts involving injuries Fields caused to others and for leaving the scene of the crash in Charlottesville in 2017.

TRT World's Lionel Donovan reports from Charlottesville.

Heyer's mother, Susan Bro, said she was satisfied with the jury's recommendation, although she said her family and the survivors of the car attack will never be the same.

"The bottom line is justice has him where he needs to be," Bro said.

"My daughter is still not here and the other survivors still have their wounds to deal with, so we've all been damaged permanently, but we do survive, we do move forward, we don't stay in that dark place."

Judges in Virginia often impose the sentence recommended by juries. 

Under state law, they can impose lower sentences than what the jury recommends, but cannot increase them.

Before issuing its recommendation, the jury asked Moore if the sentences would run consecutively or concurrently. 

He replied that sentences usually run consecutively, but that jurors could recommend concurrent sentences if they chose to.

They did not.

The jury deliberated for about four hours over two days before agreeing on a sentencing recommendation.

Fields drove to Virginia from his home in Maumee, Ohio, to support the white nationalists at the "Unite the Right" rally on August 12, 2017.

After police forced the crowds to disband because of violent clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters, Fields spotted a large group of counter-protesters marching and singing. 

He stopped his car, backed up, then sped forward into the crowd, according to testimony from witnesses and video surveillance shown to jurors.

Unite the Right rally

The Unite the Right rally had been organised in part to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee. 

Hundreds of Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis and other white nationalists — emboldened by the election of President Donald Trump — streamed into the college town for one of the largest gatherings of white supremacists in a decade. Some dressed in battle gear.

Afterward, Trump inflamed tensions even further when he said "both sides" were to blame, a comment some saw as a refusal to condemn racism.

According to one of his former teachers, Fields was known in high school for being fascinated with Nazism and idolizing Adolf Hitler. Jurors were shown a text message he sent to his mother days before the rally that included an image of the notorious German dictator.

When his mother pleaded with him to be careful, he replied: "we're not the one (sic) who need to be careful."

Fields is eligible for the death penalty if convicted of separate federal hate crime charges. No trial has been scheduled yet.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies