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White supremacist James Fields, who plowed into protesters at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, killing a woman and injuring others, has been sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty in order to avoid the death penalty.
Fields pleaded guilty to the 29 federal hate crimes after driving from his Maumee, Ohio, house to attend the "Unite the Right" rally on Aug. 12, 2017, which drew hundreds of white nationalists to Charlottesville to protest the planned removal of a Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee statue.
Hundreds of counter-protesters also attended the event, and as tensions escalated, Fields drove his car through the crowd, killing 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer and injuring more than 30 others.
Fields' attorneys sought leniency for their client in a legal memo earlier this week, arguing he should eventually be permitted parole considering his traumatic childhood and mental illness.
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During Fields' state trial, a psychologist testified for the defense saying Fields had inexplicable volatile outbursts as a young child, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 6 and was later diagnosed with a schizoid personality disorder.
In a sentencing memo, defense attorneys said Fields was raised by a paraplegic single mother and suffered "trauma" knowing his Jewish grandfather had slain his grandmother before taking his own life.
Prosecutors, however, said Fields has a long history of racist and anti-Semitic behavior and has shown no remorse for his crimes. They said he's an avowed white supremacist, admired Adolf Hitler and even kept a picture of the Nazi leader on his bedside table.
During the sentencing hearing on Friday, FBI Special Agent Wade Douthit said Fields "was like a kid at Disney World" during a high school trip to the Dachau concentration camp in Germany.
Douthit read grand jury testimony from a high school classmate of Fields who said Fields appeared happy and made the remark, "This is where the magic happened."
The statement provoked audible gasps from the crowd in a packed courtroom which included Heyer's mother, Susan Bro, and more than 30 people who were injured when Fields drove into the crowd of counter-protesters in Charlottesville.
Bro previously said she would like to see Fields imprisoned for life, though she has not responded yet to the news of his sentencing.
"I don't necessarily want to see him out and about again because I think it sends the wrong message," Bro said. "I'm hoping that justice is served, but I'm also hoping he can get some help."
The tragic incident also drew criticism for President Trump. He sparked controversy when he blamed the violence at the rally on "both sides," a statement critics saw as a refusal to condemn racism.
The Associated Press contributed to the reporting of this story.