An award-winning prosecutor known for pursuing civil rights cases recently retired from the U.S. Department of Justice and officials asked a federal judge on Monday to remove him from the federal hate-crime case against James Alex Fields Jr.
Federal prosecutors filed a request with the U.S. District Court in Charlottesville to remove Stephen J. Curran from the Fields case. They also added U.S. Assistant Attorney Risa Berkower to the team prosecuting Fields.
In June, a federal grand jury indicted Fields on 30 hate crime charges in the deadly Aug. 12, 2017 car attack that killed one and injured dozens. He could face the death penalty.
U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh are the lead attorneys for the prosecution.
The federal charges are in addition to 10 state charges, including first-degree murder, malicious wounding and aggravated malicious wounding and failure to stop at the scene of the crash.
Fields is scheduled to go to trial in Charlottesville Circuit Court starting on November 26.
Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania said he has received continuous updates about the federal case and said the change will have no impact on the city’s case.
Curran was involved in the federal investigation into the attack in downtown Charlottesville that killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
The investigation led to a federal grand jury charging Fields with one count of a hate crime resulting in Heyer’s death; 28 counts of hate crime acts attempting to kill or cause injury; and one count of “racially-motivated violent interference with a federally protected activity resulting in the death” of Heyer “for driving his car into a crowd of protesters.”
“At the Department of Justice, we remain resolute that hateful ideologies will not have the last word and that their adherents will not get away with violent crimes against those they target,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said when the charges were filed June 27.
“[The] indictment should send a clear message to every would-be criminal in America that we aggressively prosecute violent crimes of hate that threaten the core principles of our nation,” Sessions said, before thanking by name Curran and fellow prosecutors Kavanaugh and Rachel Kincaid.
Curran may be best known for prosecuting Dylann Storm Roof, who was convicted in 2016 and sentenced to death for 33 hate crimes in the deadly attack on worshipers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, in Charleston, South Carolina.
In 2008, Curran won the U.S. Attorney General’s Distinguished Service Award as part of a team that prosecuted seven Milwaukee police officers convicted of brutally assaulting two young black men whom they had falsely accused of a crime.
In 2011, Curran won another distinguished service award as part of the team that prosecuted three Pakistani citizens who pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
Curran also helped prosecute James Gonzalo Medina in 2016 who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for attempting to attack an Aventura, Florida synagogue with a weapon of mass destruction.
Medina pleaded guilty to planning to conduct a firearms or explosives attack on the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center, telling the court that he had conducted surveillance of the center.
On April 29, 2016, Medina took possession of what he believed to be an explosive device, obtained from a Southern Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force agent, and approached the Jewish Center on foot with the device in hand, intending to commit the attack.