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Neo-Nazi sentenced to life in prison for Charlottesville protest death

Eze Amos, Reuters | James Alex Fields Jr., (L) is seen attending the "Unite the Right" rally in Emancipation Park before being arrested by policein Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017.

An American neo-Nazi who drove his car into a group of counter-protesters last year during a white supremacist rally in Virginia, killing a woman, was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday.

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James Alex Fields Jr, 21, was found guilty of murder and other charges last week following a two-week jury trial in Charlottesville.

The same seven-woman, five-man jury that convicted Fields sentenced him to life in prison on Tuesday and an additional 419 years.

Fields rammed his car into the counter-protesters on August 12, 2017, killing 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of other people.

>> Read more: Charlottesville one year on: FRANCE 24 talks to a survivor

Those counter-protesters had gathered in opposition to a group of white supremacists who came to the university town to protest the removal of a Confederate statue.

President Donald Trump drew broad criticism in the aftermath of the mayhem when he spoke of "blame on both sides," appearing to establish a moral equivalence between the white supremacists and those who opposed them.

The incident turned Charlottesville into a symbol of the growing audacity of the far right under Trump.

Fields had driven overnight from his hometown of Maumee, Ohio, to support the "Unite the Right" rally to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E Lee, the top general of the pro-slavery Confederacy during the 1861-1865 American Civil War.

Dressed in a white polo shirt and khaki pants, the uniform of the white supremacists, he took part in racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic chants, according to footage played in the courtroom.

The prosecution played videos that showed Fields stop his car and reverse up a hill before commencing his deadly assault on counter-protesters who were singing and celebrating after city officials had ordered the far-right demonstrators to leave.

In order to build their case of a pre-meditated attack, prosecutors presented a text Fields sent to his mother before departing for the rally after she had asked him to be careful.

"We're not the one (sic) who need to be careful," he replied, alongside a photo of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, whom he has long admired.

They also showed the jury two Instagram posts Fields uploaded in May last year that depicted a car ramming into a group of protesters, arguing that he ultimately chose to live out that fantasy when the opportunity arose three months later.

(AFP)

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