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Jury Recommends Life In Prison For White Nationalist Rally Killer

A jury has recommended life in prison plus 419 years for James Alex Fields Jr., who was convicted of murder for driving his car into counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville last August.

Fields, 21, stood stoically with his hands folded in front of him as a court clerk read the verdict, which now must be taken under advisement by the judge, who will issue the final sentence.

Judge Richard Moore scheduled a sentencing hearing for March 29.

Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal and civil rights activist, was killed, and nearly three dozen others were injured. The jury made its recommendation on Tuesday, a day after listening to emotional statements from survivors who described devastating injuries and complicated recoveries.

The jury reached its verdict after deliberating for about four hours over two days. Judges in Virginia often impose the sentence recommended by juries. Under state law, they can impose lower sentences than what the jury recommends, but cannot increase them.

James Fields was convicted on murder last week. Image: CBS News.

READ MORE: Man Who Rammed Car Into Crowd At White Supremacy Rally Convicted Of Murder

Before issuing its recommendation, the jury asked Moore if the sentences would run consecutively or concurrently. He replied that sentences usually run consecutively, but that jurors could recommend concurrent sentences if they choose.

The same jury convicted Fields of first-degree murder and other felonies on Friday, rejecting his lawyers' arguments that he had acted in self-defence. Fields is eligible for the death penalty if convicted of separate federal hate crime charges. No trial has been scheduled yet.

Fields drove to Virginia from his home in Maumee, Ohio, to support the white nationalists. After the rally, as a large group of counterprotesters marched through Charlottesville singing and laughing, he stopped his car, backed up, then sped into the crowd, according to testimony from witnesses and video surveillance shown to jurors.

Wednesday Bowie, a counter protester who got caught on the trunk of Fields' car when he backed up and was then slammed into a parked truck and thrown to the ground, told the jury that in addition to a broken pelvis and other physical injuries. She said she has been hospitalised three times for post-traumatic stress disorder over the past year.

A group of protesters march near the site of a makeshift memorial where Heather Heyer was killed. Image: Getty Images)

"Please know that the world is not a safe place with Fields in it," Bowie said.

The Unite the Right rally had been organised in part to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Hundreds of Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis and other white nationalists -- emboldened by the election of President Trump -- streamed into the college town for one of the largest gatherings of white supremacists in a decade. Some dressed in battle gear.

READ MORE: Protesters March Through Charlottesville One Year After Far-Right Rally

READ MORE: Trump Condemns 'All Racism' Ahead Of Charlottesville Anniversary

Afterward, Trump inflamed tensions even further when he said "both sides" were to blame, a comment critics saw as a refusal to condemn racism.

Heyer's mother, Susan Bro, spoke to CBS News on the anniversary of her daughter's death. She said it was "difficult to say" if the country had made progress since the deadly attack.

"What appeared to be closer together a year ago was not truly close together. It was more of an artificial covering over deep-seated wounds, a deep seated-infection in our society," Bro said.

"I think last year's eruption gives us a little better understanding of how bad it is so that we can gradually and slowly heal. If you rush to heal, if you rush to grab each other and sing Kumbaya, we will be back here in a few years."

Featured Image: CBS News.