Charlottesville protests lead to murder conviction
Attorney Page Pate, who is recognized as a legal analyst and a criminal defense and constitutional lawyer, has been representing people charged in serious federal criminal cases for over 20 years. He is often asked by the media to provide opinions and analysis of important cases that appear in the news. Occasionally, Page will write opinion articles discussing these issues.
CNN published Page’s opinion article about James Fields, who was accused of driving his car into a group of protestors in August 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The pedestrians were protesting the “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally. Fields killed Heather Heyer, a 32 year old paralegal, and injured several other people.
In his article, Page discusses the possible reasons behind Fields’ actions that day, and what the main question the jury had to answer was – “Was it out of a legitimate fear of the crowd, as Fields claimed, or was it an intentional act of harm?” Evidence presented at trial indicated that Fields intentionally drove his car into the pedestrians for reasons based on hatred and racism. Page explains that “Fields’ lawyers fought back against this narrative by trying to show that their client did not intend to kill anyone. He was not angry, they argued. He was simply afraid of the crowd. They presented testimony from people who were there that day who described Fields’ demeanor as “calm and normal” and perhaps “a little scared.” The defense lawyer tried to set the scene as a “perfect storm” of events leading to the tragedy — one that Fields simply had no control over.”
Ultimately, the jury did find Fields guilty and they recommended the maximum penalty – a life sentence. Page comments that although this message from the jury comes at a time when there continues to be people in the United States with racist and intolerant beliefs, “…it isn’t solely up to the criminal justice system to stand up to the hate. The rest of us have to work harder to push back. We can never accept that the people who share Fields’ beliefs are “some very fine people.” And we can never accept the comment Fields made to his mother while awaiting trial, that Heyer’s death “doesn’t f**king matter.””
Fields was sentenced to life plus 419 years and $480,000 in fines in this case. He also pled guilty to 29 hate crimes in federal court and received a life sentence, without the possibility of parole.
Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of our firm’s “The Federal Docket” and a contributor to Mercer Law Review’s Annual Survey in the areas of federal law. Tom was named a “Top 40 Under 40” lawyer by The National Trial Lawyers, and is a recognized expert in federal sentencing law. He graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom’s reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.