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Charlottesville killer to change not guilty plea in federal court

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Posted at 6:17 PM, Mar 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-26 18:18:42-04

James Alex Fields Jr., the Ohio native charged with 30 federal hate crimes in connection to the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, will appear in federal court Wednesday afternoon to change his not guilty plea.

Fields was recorded on the day of the rally, which brought far-right protesters bearing guns, torches and Nazi paraphernalia to the Virginia college town, driving his car into a crowd of anti-racist activists. One of them, 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer, died on the scene.

Dozens more were injured, some so severely they developed permanent physical disabilities.

Fields was convicted of Heyer’s murder in a local court Dec. 7, 2018. The charges he faces in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia accuse him of killing her, injuring 28 other people and using force to intimidate them — all “because of the actual and perceived race, color, religion and national origin” of the people in the crowd.

He pleaded not guilty to all of them July 5, 2018. The federal court schedule did not provide information about which would be involved in his change of plea.

Teachers and classmates who knew Fields during his time at Randall K. Cooper High School in Union, Kentucky, described him as open about his white supremacist beliefs even then.

“He would proclaim himself as a Nazi … it was not a secret,” classmate Marisa, who requested WCPO not use her last name, said shortly after the attack. “It wasn’t dismissed, but it wasn’t taken seriously.”

History teacher Derek Weimer said Fields had been generally quiet but had “radical ideas on race” and a fascination with German history that became an infatuation with Adolf Hitler.

"I thought at times I got through to him," Weimer said, "but obviously not."