Heather Heyer‘s mother is suing her daughter’s imprisoned killer for $12 million — but she doesn’t expect to see a penny.
Susan Bro is aware of the controversies surrounding Ronald Reagan’s killer, John Hinckley Jr., and Charles Manson attempting to profit off of their stories, so her lawsuit in Charlottesville, Virginia, Circuit Court serves as a pre-emptive blow, she told CNN on Thursday.
“I want to make sure he doesn’t get rich off this,” she said. “I want to send a strong message to others who would try to murder people as an act of terror … that there are going to be serious consequences that are going to follow you.”
To be clear, James Fields Jr. doesn’t appear to be going anywhere he could make any serious coin. He’s facing centuries of jail time in Heyer’s August 2017 death after Virginia and federal judges separately handed down life sentences for the 22-year-old. The state judge sentenced him to an additional 419 years as well.
Fields, then 20, drove from Maumee, Ohio, to attend the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville that turned violent after white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other groups arrived to protest a city decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Amid violent clashes, he drove his car into a group of counterprotesters, killing Heyer and injuring more than two dozen others.
Following the 32-year-old paralegal’s killing, investigators discovered social media posts in which Fields “expressed support of the social and racial policies of Adolf Hitler and Nazi-era Germany, including the Holocaust; and espoused violence against African Americans, Jewish people and members of other racial, ethnic and religious groups he perceived to be non-white,” according to a federal indictment.
Bro filed her lawsuit last week on behalf of Heyer’s estate, which is composed of Bro and Heyer’s brother and father, who the lawsuit says “have suffered great mental anguish, and solace, including loss of security companionship, comfort, guidance, kindly offices, and advice.”
It seeks damages on counts of negligent wrongful death, gross negligence, assault and battery and malicious wounding, the lawsuit says.
Bro was hesitant to go forward with the lawsuit because she wasn’t sure if she could endure another taxing trial. After getting through last month’s anniversary of her daughter’s death and consulting with her lawyer, though, she decided she had to do it, she said.
“I don’t expect to ever see a dime. It’s all about the message,” she said.
Bro has been keeping herself busy with the Heather Heyer Foundation, she said. The organization awarded eight scholarships over the summer, she said, and last month launched the Heyer Voices initiative, which aims to support young people in Charlottesville by cultivating “self-awareness, empowerment, and skillfulness to change the world from ‘the inside out.'”
She’s also joined Haifa Jabara in pushing Congress to enact hate crime legislation in Heyer’s and Jabara’s son’s names. Exactly one year before Heyer’s death, Khalid Jabara was murdered in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by a man who had been harassing the 37-year-old and his Lebanese family for years.
At trial, prosecutors painted Stanley Majors as an Islamophobe. He was sentenced to life in prison and was found dead in his prison cell seven months later.
The Jabara-Heyer No Hate Act aims to improve the accuracy of hate crime reporting and provide resources for state hate crime hotlines, among other provisions.
“A doctor cannot address a disease without an accurate picture of the symptoms and a diagnosis. Accurate data on hate crime informs that diagnosis and sets policy. We need it today more than ever,” the mothers wrote in an August op-ed for The New York Times.
“We did not seek to become advocates or experts on hate crimes. For both of us, tragic incidents on Aug. 12 changed that forever. … We are working so that no family has to bear the loss of their child and the realization that a tragic murder was not counted.”