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Murder Charge Upgraded Against White Nationalist in Virginia Car Killing


FILE - A photo of Heather Heyer, who was killed during a white nationalist rally, sits on the ground at a memorial the day her life was celebrated at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia.

A white nationalist accused of killing a 32-year-old woman when he plowed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August was charged with first-degree murder Thursday, local media reported.

James Fields Jr., 20, appeared at Charlottesville District Court for a preliminary hearing, during which a previous charge of second-degree murder was changed to first-degree murder, local TV station WSET and others reported from the court.

James Alex Fields Jr., 20, is seen in a mugshot released by Charlottesville, Virginia, police department.
James Alex Fields Jr., 20, is seen in a mugshot released by Charlottesville, Virginia, police department.

Fields would face up to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder, while second-degree murder carries a penalty of five to 40 years in prison, according to the Virginia penal code.

Court officials and the local district attorney were not immediately available for comment.

Ohio-native Fields is suspected of killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 people.

The incident took place amid clashes between hundreds of white supremacists and counterprotesters. After hours of clashes, a sedan driving at high speed plowed into the crowd before reversing along the same street.

Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia’s flagship campus.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe blamed neo-Nazis for sparking the unrest in the city, where rival groups fought pitched battles using rocks and pepper spray after far-right protesters converged to demonstrate against a plan to remove a statue of a Confederate war hero.

After the rally, Republican President Donald Trump said there were “very fine people” on both sides, drawing condemnation from some Republican leaders and praise from white supremacists.

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