The three protesters convicted on federal charges after sneaking into the Y-12 National Security Complex and splashing human blood and spray-painting slogans on a uranium storage building in July 2012 will be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Knoxville on Tuesday morning.
The sentencing hearing for the three anti-nuclear weapons activists—Greg Boertje-Obed, Megan Rice, and Michael R. Walli—is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday. The defendants will be sentenced individually after a joint hearing to hear witness testimony and objections to a pre-sentence report.
The government plans to call retired Brig. Gen. Rodney L. Johnson as a witness. He testified at the two-day trial in May, and he is the senior vice president and deputy general manager of security operations and emergency services at Y-12.
A Catholic nun, house painter, and laborer, Boertje-Obed, Rice, and Walli were convicted in May 2013 of destroying U.S. property and attempting to injure national defense premises. They acknowledged sneaking into Y-12 before dawn on July 28, 2012, and cutting through three fences in a high-security Protected Area before vandalizing the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, where most of the nation’s bomb-grade uranium is stored. But they said their unprecedented intrusion was peaceful, religiously motivated, and nonviolent, a symbolic disarming of Y-12.
Prosecutors, however, argued that the security breach significantly disrupted Y-12 and interfered with the national defense. A secret shipment of materials that had been scheduled to arrive at the 811-acre plant the day of the intrusion had to be delayed, and nuclear operations shut down for about two weeks, prosecutors and government witnesses said. They said the breach damaged Y-12′s credibility, and it cost $8,532 to repair fences and pressure wash and paint damaged walls and barricades.
Boertje-Obed, Rice, and Walli could have faced up to 30 years in prison each, but a government memo calls for shorter sentences under federal guidelines. Walli’s recommended sentence is about 7.7 to 9.6 years, Boertje-Obed’s is 6.5 to 8.1 years, and Rice’s is 5.8 to 7.3 years.
In a sentencing memo filed Jan. 15, the government argued that the defendants’ actions caused a massive disruption to Y-12 operations.
“On the day of the break-in, it was necessary for the facility to go ‘fully secure’ and to guard the PIDAS (perimeter intrusion detection and assessment system) fences where the breach occurred until those fences and sensors could be secured and repaired, and until security could sweep the entire premises and be sure there were no other intruders,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey E. Theodore said. “The defendants’ intrusion resulted in a full ‘stand-down’ of operations for 15 days where all nuclear operations at the site were suspended. The 15-day shutdown put everything related to nuclear operations at Y-12 behind schedule. Production was delayed, and the facility missed scheduled deliverables. A shipment of components and materials from an Office of Secured Transportation convoy scheduled for the day of the intrusion was ‘substantially delayed.'”
The unprecedented security breach also damaged Y-12’s credibility, both in the United States and across the world, the government said.
The government said Walli has at least nine prior convictions related to his protest activities, including a felony offense in 2006. In addition, Walli was convicted and sentenced to eight months in prison for criminal trespass at Y-12 in 2010.
Boertje-Obed has about 20 convictions related to his protest activities. One in 2006 was for felony destruction of government property, the government said. Walli was a codefendant in that case. Many of Boertje-Obed’s prior convictions apparently did not count against him because the convictions occurred so long ago.
Rice has four convictions related to protest activities, the government said.
The government said the protesters have been convicted of serious offenses that have caused real harm to Y-12, and they have shown no remorse for their criminal conduct.
“Instead, they have reveled in their violations and used it to gain publicity for their cause,” the government said. “By penetrating the secure and sensitive premises of Y-12 and having a highly publicized trial, the defendants accomplished their mission. Now that it is time for them to pay the price for their decision, the defendants ask for an incredible discount. The United States believes that the defendants should be held accountable for their deliberate choices and accept the appropriate consequences for their actions.”
There has been a massive letter writing campaign on behalf of the protesters. They have received thousands of letters, postcards, and signatures, including from overseas. Among other things, supporters have urged U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar to consider shorter or suspended sentences. Supporters have noted that Rice, the oldest of the three protesters, could turn 90 in prison if sentenced to six years.
In their response to the government’s sentencing memo, the protesters pointed out that they would have received shorter sentences if they had pleaded guilty earlier, indicating that the government had already accepted lower sentences.
“What changed and made their conduct so very ‘serious’?” the trio asked Jan. 20. “Defendants refused to plead guilty. The government promised not to charge them with sabotage if they plead guilty to trespass and felony damage to property and promised to seek much more serious consequences against defendants if they chose to exercise their constitutional right to go to trial. When defendants insisted on their constitutional right, the government decided to recharge them with much more serious charges.
“Should these defendants spend extra years in prison just because they exercised their right to trial by jury?”
The protesters also said the government had mischaracterized the damage proven at trial. The trio was nonviolent, did not carry weapons, and did not run or resist arrest, they said. Also, the allegations of a massive disruption at Y-12 omit contrary facts, the three said.
“Three non‐violent and symbolic resisters to nuclear weapons have been in prison for months already,” the protesters said. “Called ‘trespassers’ by the government, they cut through several non‐functioning fences and ‘defaced’ a building at Y‐12 holding highly enriched uranium with peace messages such as ‘disarm’ and ‘transform.’ They admitted what they did and even helped the government identify a hole in the fence months later. They acted in accordance with their consciences and the widely held opinion, shared by former attorney general of the U.S., Ramsey Clark, and others that at Y‐12 there are illegal weapons of mass destruction.
“They have spent enough time in prison already.”
Note: This story was updated at 7:53 a.m.