Three nuclear weapons protestors accused of breaking into Y-12 in Oak Ridge last weekend are now set to stand trial on October 9. A federal magistrate set the trial date during a Thursday afternoon hearing in Downtown Knoxville.
Early Saturday morning 63-year-old Michael Walli, 57-year-old Greg Boertje-Obed, and 82-year-old nun Meegan Rice were arrested outside the Highly Enriched Uranium Material Facility (HEUMF) at Y-12 in Oak Ridge. The protestors belong to the "Transform Now Plowshares" peace movement that opposes nuclear weapons.
A friend of the protestors says the trio made it through several fences around the perimeter of Y-12, had time to spray paint messages on the HEUMF exterior wall, hit the building with hammers, splash it with human blood, and hold a peace ritual before they were caught.
Y-12 has temporarily suspended its nuclear operations at the site while it reviews security.
The three defendants were back in court wearing prison jumpsuits and shackles Thursday for what was supposed to be a preliminary probable cause hearing on charges of misdemeanor federal trespassing.
Because the defendants only face misdemeanor charges, prosecutors were able to bypass the probable cause hearing by substituting the process with an "information" filing. U.S. Attorney Bill Killian told 10News the decision was made because it speeds the justice process by skipping the grand jury and immediately scheduling a trial date. The "information" process also prevents the preliminary hearing from featuring questions about what Killian called an ongoing investigation. Killian declined to comment on the investigation, but did not rule out the possibility of additional charges.
All three defendants pleaded not guilty, although it took some prodding by Magistrate Clifford Shirley to arrive at the conclusion for Obed. Obed repeatedly responded to the Shirley's plea question by saying he pleaded for "the downtrodden who suffer" and "the children of the world." Shirley eventually said he was entering a plea of not guilty on behalf of Obed. The trial is set to start October 9.
Magistrate Shirley questioned the prosecution's right to ask for the defendants to be detained in jail until trial. Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Kirby stated the defendants are repeat offenders who present a danger to the community and are a flight risk.
Shirley countered by saying the government has not provided any proof that the protestors actually qualify for detainment. The magistrate stated detainment is normally reserved for felony cases or crimes that involve violence, drugs, minors, or fire arms. Furthermore, Shirley stated one of the defendants, Michael Walli, had been released pre-trial and appeared as scheduled in the past.
A hearing has been scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday for the U.S. Attorney's Office to make its case for why the misdemeanor cases qualify for detainment. A detainment hearing, if necessary, will immediately follow.
Protestor Infiltration Detailed
Because there was no preliminary hearing Thursday, no specifics were revealed from the investigation into exactly how the protestors managed to get so deep into a place with as much security as Y-12.
Ellen Barfield, a friend of the three defendants, relayed details of the protestors' actions to the media earlier in the week. 10News spoke with Barfield on Thursday and obtained additional specifics per her conversations with the defendants.
Barfield says the three protestors spent several hours hiking to the HEUMF at Y-12 in the overnight darkness early Saturday.
"I'm told they walked up a steep ridge and basically bushwhacked their way through brush until they reached the first fence," said Barfield. "They used bolt cutters to cut through the fences."
Barfield said there was "walking around time" between each fence and the group did not make a direct "bee line" to the facility.
After getting through four fences, the trio arrived at the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility. Barfield said the group was picked up "relatively quickly" once they reached the HEUMF. However, they had enough time to hang banners, hit the building with hammers, spray paint messages, splash the building with blood, and hold a peace ritual before they were apprehended.
"I say they were picked up relatively quickly at Y-12 because there have been other Cropshares actions across the country where people had to wait long periods and basically announce their presence to security before they were caught," said Barfield. "They still had time to do everything they planned."