(Reuters) – A 21-year-old Ohio man accused of killing a woman after plowing his car into a group of people protesting against a white nationalist rally in Virginia last year was due to appear in court on Thursday on federal hate crime charges.
The hearing in Charlottesville, Virginia will be the first time James Alex Fields Jr. appears in court to face the charges, for which he could face the death penalty if convicted. Fields also faces separate state murder charges in Virginia.
Hundreds of people descended on the college town of Charlottesville last August 11-12 to protest the removal of a statue honoring a commander of the Confederate Army, the losing side of the U.S. Civil War, in what was billed as a Unite the Right rally.
Counter-protesters turned out to demonstrate against the rally and there were clashes between both sides. Fields is charged with driving his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing a 32-year-old paralegal, Heather Heyer, and injuring dozens of people.
U.S. President Donald Trump was heavily criticized across the political spectrum when he said afterward that “many sides” were to blame for the violence, and did not specifically denounce the far right.
Fields regularly touted racist ideologies on his social media accounts, including expressing support for Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust, according to the indictment filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.
Authorities have charged Fields with one count of a hate crime act resulting in death and 28 counts of a hate crime act involving an attempt to kill. If convicted of a hate crime act resulting in death, Fields may face the death penalty, although it is not clear whether prosecutors plan to seek capital punishment.
Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Frances Kerry