The three protesters who broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in July and vandalized a uranium storage building must stay in jail until they are sentenced Sept. 23, a federal judge said Friday.
The three protesters—Greg Boertje-Obed, 57; Megan Rice, 83; and Michael Walli, 64—had sought to be released until their sentencing hearings this fall. They each face up to 30 years in prison.
But U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar denied that request in a four-page order filed late Friday afternoon.
Under federal law, he said, there is a strong presumption in favor of detention in this case, and the defendants don’t meet the conditions that would allow them to rebut that presumption. To be freed, they would have to show by “clear and convincing evidence” that they aren’t likely to flee or pose a danger, and they would have to demonstrate that their motions for acquittal will be granted or that the prosecution won’t recommend prison sentences.
But federal prosecutors have said they plan to recommend a prison sentence, and the U.S. District Court in Knoxville previously denied an acquittal motion on one of the charges, willful destruction of government property, Thapar said. That charge by itself carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Thapar said Boertje-Obed, Rice, and Walli also haven’t shown that there are exceptional circumstances that would warrant their release.
The three protesters were convicted in federal court on Wednesday of willful destruction of government property and injuring national defense premises with the intent to interfere with the national defense. A jury found them guilty on both counts after 2.5 hours of deliberation at the end of a two-day trial.
The three defendants, all anti-nuclear weapons activists, acknowledged breaking into Y-12 before dawn on July 28, cutting through three fences in a high-security Protected Area, and splashing human blood and spray-painting slogans on the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, where most of the nation’s bomb-grade uranium is stored. They called their intrusion, or “action,” Transform Now Plowshares. They said they were peaceful protesters who were motivated by religion and on a mission to symbolically disarm Y-12, which works on components for every nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal.
Government prosecutors, however, argued that the unprecedented security breach caused a significant disruption, delaying a secret shipment scheduled to arrive at Y-12 the day of the intrusion and forcing a two-week shutdown in nuclear operations at the 811-acre plant. The breach damaged Y-12′s credibility, and it cost $8,532 to repair fences and pressure wash and paint damaged walls and barricades, the prosecution and its witnesses said.
Paul Magno, a member of a Washington, D.C., Plowshares support group who was at the trial this week along with dozens of other supporters and activists, called the judge’s decision on Friday “very disappointing but not a terrible surprise.
“Peacemakers under lock and key; nuclear terror has carte blanche,” Magno said. “What a mixed-up ‘justice’ system we have.”
Contacted earlier Friday, Sharry Dedman-Beard, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tennessee’s Eastern District, said her office will not be issuing any statements on the case until after the three defendants are sentenced.
“They are all currently in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and will be placed by them as appropriate,” Dedman-Beard said.
Boertje-Obed, Rice, and Walli were listed as inmates in the Knox County jail on Friday evening.
Note: This story was last updated at 7:52 p.m.