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March 27, 2019

After state jury recommended 419 years plus life, feds allow Charlottesville killer to plead guilty to take capital charge off table

As reported in this NBC News piece, headlined "Driver in deadly car attack at Charlottesville white nationalist rally pleads guilty to federal hate crimes," the federal government cut a plea deal to allow a hate crime killer to avoid facing the death penalty.  Here are the basics:

The man convicted of murder in the deadly car attack on counterprotesters at the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges Wednesday in order to dodge a possible death penalty.

James Alex Fields Jr., 21, from Maumee, Ohio, pleaded guilty to 29 of 30 charges against him.  The 30th charge, which included a possible death sentence, was dropped. He's been ordered to return to court on July 3 to be sentenced.

The single charge in Count 30 was brought under a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1968.  It had accused Fields of racially motivated violent interference with a federally protected activity — counterprotesters using the public streets and sidewalks of Charlottesville — and carried a possible death penalty....

"The defendant in this case has pled guilty to 29 hate crimes which he committed by driving his car into a crowd of protesters," Attorney General William Barr said in a statement. "These hate crimes are also acts of domestic terrorism."

Barr cited the recent mosque massacre in New Zealand that left 50 dead in saying the nation must have zero tolerance for racial and religious bias.  “In the aftermath of the mass murder in New Zealand earlier this month, we are reminded that a diverse and pluralistic community such as ours can have zero tolerance for violence on the basis of race, religion, or association with people of other races and religions,” according to Barr....

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia Thomas Cullen said he hopes this courtroom deal will spare survivors of reliving that day.  “Although the defendant’s guilty plea cannot undo the pain, suffering, and loss that he caused, it is my hope that it will enable these victims and our community to continue the healing process," Cullen said....

Jurors in his state case found him guilty of murder and recommended he be sentenced to life in prison, plus 419 years. Sentencing in that case is scheduled for July 15.

I am always disinclined to question a plea deal without knowing all the details, especially details related to the expressed interests of the victims and the arguments that might be made by the defense.  But, in this context, I still cannot help but note that the Trump administration, though talking up the death penalty in various ways, has not yet shown all that much of a interest in aggressively pursuing capital prosecutions or actual executions.   (This AP article from back in October 2018 indicated that the first couple years of the Trump administration involved roughly the same use of the death penalty as in the early years of the Obama administration and that "both the Trump and Obama administrations pale in comparison to that of President George W. Bush and his attorney general John Ashcroft, who in 2003 alone signed off on capital prosecutions against more than three dozen defendants.")

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March 27, 2019 at 05:48 PM | Permalink


" I still cannot help but note that the Trump administration, though talking up the death penalty in various ways, has not yet shown all that much of a interest in aggressively pursuing capital prosecutions or actual executions."
And the point of that comment is ....?
If the Trump administration is recognizing the direction of tide nationwide, against the use of the death penalty, shouldn't that be a cause for celebration rather than question?

Posted by: peter | Mar 28, 2019 10:11:23 AM

The point of the comment is to highlight inconsistency in Trump rhetoric and policy reality. Different folks can celebrate or curse either or both, but I think it notable that they do not match.

Posted by: Doug B. | Mar 28, 2019 6:17:24 PM

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