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O'Neill reports: "The three, who call themselves the Transform Now Plowshares, are facing long prison sentences for sabotage."

Michael Walli, Sister Megan Rice and Greg Boerje-Obed, face 20 years in prison for anti-nuclear protest. (photo: Transform Now Plowshares)
Michael Walli, Sister Megan Rice and Greg Boerje-Obed, face 20 years in prison for anti-nuclear protest. (photo: Transform Now Plowshares)

Sentence Postponed for Transform Now Plowshares

By Patrick O'Neill, National Catholic Reporter

05 February 14


late-afternoon snowfall that blanketed the South led to the postponement of the sentencing of three Catholic anti-nuclear activists in federal court on Tuesday.

U.S. District Court Judge Amul R. Thapar* issued a continuance in the case of Sr. Megan Rice, Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli when he was told the courthouse would be closing at 2:30 p.m. because of the snowfall. The case, which involves more than a half-dozen lawyers, was reset for Feb. 18.

The three, who call themselves the Transform Now Plowshares, are facing long prison sentences for sabotage following their July 28, 2012, break-in at Y-12 nuclear weapons facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn. They were convicted May 8, 2013***, of "injuring the national defense" and depredation of government property, charges that carry up to 30 years in prison. Federal guidelines in the case call for the three to receive from five to nine years in prison.

In Tuesday's sentencing hearing, which was witnessed by more than 100 supporters of the group, defense lawyers argued that Thapar should "downwardly depart" from the sentencing guidelines suggested by the federal prosecutor. Thapar also agreed with the government's contention that the defendants were responsible for making restitution to the government of $52,557.

The judge disagreed with defense contentions that the defendants were entitled to leniency because they had accepted responsibility for their actions. Federal prosecutor Jeffrey E. Theodore argued that the defendants were not entitled to departure from the guidelines because, "They have never admitted to criminal conduct." The Plowshares activists, who take their name from Isaiah 2:4 ("They shall beat their swords into plowshares; their spears into pruning hooks. One nation will not lift sword against another, nor shall they train for war anymore") have claimed they were following international law when they gained access to the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, which contains a stockpile of weapons-grade uranium. Once inside the facility, the three chipped the building's structure with hammers and sprayed "biblical graffiti" before lighting candles and awaiting arrest.

"The critical point is contrition, and I don't think any of the defendants are contrite about what they did," the judge said. "The defendants will not be given acceptance of responsibility."

Thapar also denied the defendants' claim that they deserved leniency because they believed their "criminal acts" at Y-12 "were committed to prevent a perceived greater harm" (the possible use of nuclear weapons). Thapar said, "I understand that the defendants perceived a greater harm, but I think the United States has a different point of view."

The judge still will hear arguments for departure based on the argument that the case includes "special or unusual circumstances." Toward that end, the defense called four character witnesses, each of whom praised the defendants as committed peace activists who were led to nonviolent direct action out of their love for creation and humanity.

In her testimony, Yale professor and author Mary Evelyn Tucker, a longtime family friend of Rice, said, "It is clear that Megan is a person of high moral principles with a profound Christian commitment to alleviate suffering and advance the cause of peace."

Catholic Worker Kathy Boylan, who lives with Walli at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House in Washington, D.C., testified that "Michael Walli is trying to save our lives; your life, Judge Thapar; your life, Mr. Theodore. Listen to him."

Witness Wilfred "Andy" Anderson called for the release of the three, calling them "terrific" and "decent, warm-hearted human beings" who did not "present a danger to society."

The Society of the Holy Child Jesus, Rice's religious order, is also calling on Thapar to be lenient. "We've been hoping and praying for either a suspended sentence or a lenient sentence, especially because of (Sr. Megan's) age," Sr. Sandra Lincoln**, who was representing the society at the hearing, told NCR. Rice turns 84 on Friday. "She has a heart condition and over 50 years of service in our community."

*An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Thapar's name.

**An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Lincoln's name.

***An earlier version of this story had the incorrect day of conviction. your social media marketing partner


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+27 # jwb110 2014-02-05 23:27
The only thing that these three people showed was that just about any old poop can break into Oak Ridge. As for $52,000 worth of restitution, if the gov't had provided real security for Oak Ridge none of this would ever have happened. The real fault lies with the Federal Gov't.
+14 # James Klimaski 2014-02-06 07:02
If these good people are given lengthy sentences then I want the people who were in charge of security at Oak ridge tried for dereliction of duty. For had terrorists tried to break in to the facility who knows what would have happened. As for the $52,000 claim for damages, that sounds like it was heavily padded. The appropriate sentence for the Plowshares defendants should be probation.
+7 # tedrey 2014-02-06 07:29
It amazes me how men like Thapur can so bury their morality and warp their intelligence in order to preserve "laws" of dubious legality and deadly consequences . . . or perhaps merely for the sake of their career under a rotten system. Pray for Sr. Megan, Greg, and Michael.
+6 # ChristopherCurrie 2014-02-06 09:41
The fact that our own Federal Government charged these protesters with "injuring the national defense" has seriously degraded the credibility of our federal legal system. Why should Americans enlist in the US military to defend a government that acts so dishonestly and irresponsibly?
+4 # Eliz77 2014-02-06 12:25
Actually, the Transformation Plowshares three should charge the government at least $52,000 consultation fees for security testing and consultation. It would be a bargain.

Also, the United States of America has signed a treaty to stop nuclear proliferation. It seems to me, that the activities at Y12 are illegal. The Three only brought to the country's attention the fact that Y12 and much of the funding for nukes is for developing and expanding nuclear weapons.

And, lastly, the entire design and placement of Y12 is a boondoggle. To truly keep the place secure in the geography where it is located, sets it up to be easily broken into, or otherwise endangered. The billions proposed to expand the plant would be better used to take advantage of the skills and expertise of the engineers and workers there to dismantle and secure all nuclear weapons stockpiled there. It would take many years and generations.

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