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James Alex Field, Charlottesville suspect
In this Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, photo, James Alex Fields Jr. stands on the sidewalk looking at the procession of the clergy as they gathered at McGaffey park, ahead of a rally in Charlottesville, Va. Fields is accused of ramming his car into a crowd of counter-protesters Saturday in Charlottesville, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring over a dozen others. (Eze Amos via AP)

The Charlottesville car attack suspect was charged with first-degree murder

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The man accused of driving a car into people protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this year is facing a new charge of first-degree murder.

Prosecutors on Thursday announced that they were hoping to upgrade a previous second-degree murder charge against James Alex Fields, 20.

Fields, of Maumee, Ohio, was initially charged with second-degree murder following the Aug. 12 collision in Charlottesville that killed Heather Heyer, 32, and injured dozens of other people.

The judge at Thursday’s preliminary court hearing over the attack agreed to the prosecutors’ request and upgraded the charge against Fields to one count of first-degree murder.

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The official also ruled that there is probable cause for nine lesser felony counts against Fields to proceed, and the case will now get presented before a grand jury for an indictment.

Fields now faces a penalty of 20 years to life in prison should he be convicted of first-degree murder, and he would have faced five to 40 years in prison for the second-degree version.

Charlottesville Police Detective Steven Young on Thursday said that authorities had identified 36 victims of the car attack last summer, including Heyer.

The number was higher than the one officials previously gave, and Young added that some people are “wheelchair bound” following significant injuries.

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Scores of white nationalists descended upon Charlottesville last August to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee there.

The situation ultimately turned violent when physical confrontations erupted between the white nationalists and counter-protesters, resulting in the events of Aug. 12.

Authorities have since linked the chaos in Charlottesville to a helicopter crash that killed two Virginia State Police Department officers involved in responding to it.

Derek Weimer, who is one of Fields’ former high school teachers, earlier this year described the latter as fascinated by Nazi Germany and its leader, Adolf Hitler.

The bloodshed in Charlottesville provoked fierce debate across America over race relations and whether white nationalism is reinvigorated in the U.S.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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