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Y-12 trespassers face felonies; two protesters released

7:37 AM, Aug 4, 2012   |    comments
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  • Y-12 Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF)
    

Three nuclear weapons protestors accused of breaking into Y-12 and vandalizing the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility in Oak Ridge now face a criminal complaint that calls for felony charges.

On July 28 at around 3:00 a.m., 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 trio are supporters of the "Transform Now Plowshares" peace movement that opposes nuclear weapons.

Prosecutors say the three cut through four fences around the perimeter of Y-12 and spray painted messages on the exterior wall of the HEUMF.  A friend of the defendants said they also hit the building with hammers, splashed human blood on the building, and held a peace ritual before they were caught. Y-12 has temporarily suspended its nuclear operations at the site while it reviews security. 

Thursday the defendants were charged with misdemeanor federal trespassing.   Friday afternoon a hearing to determine if the defendants could be released changed to an initial appearance for new felony charges.

New Felony Charges

In addition to misdemeanor trespassing, on Friday prosecutors filed a felony criminal complaint against the three defendants.  The felony violations apply to crimes committed against "buildings or property within special maritime and territorial" jurisdictions.

The U.S. Code says it is a felony for someone who "willfully and maliciously destroys or injures any structure, conveyance, or other real or personal property, or attempts or conspires to do such an act."  The prosecution cited the destruction of fences, hitting the building with hammers, and spray painting messages on the building as a violation of this law.


The new charges carry penalties of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000.

A preliminary hearing to establish probable cause and on the felony charges is set for Thursday, August 9, at 9:30 a.m.

The three pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charges in federal court on Thursday.  The trial for the misdemeanor charges are set to start October 9.

Protesters Released

Magistrate Clifford Shirley agreed to the conditional release of Walli and Rice during Friday's proceedings.  Boertje-Obed did not request a detainment hearing and will remain in jail.

The U.S. Attorney's office argued that all defendants should remain in jail because they are repeat offenders and a danger to the community.  Prosecutor Melissa Kirby cited several factors, including the trespassers willingness to possibly provoke gunfire that endangers others by knowingly entering an area where security is authorized to use lethal force.  Kirby stated the defendants should be detained because their trespassing went far beyond "a symbolic crime" typical of public protests.

The judge ultimately disagreed, saying the government failed to prove the defendants pose a danger so serious that it cannot be reduced by placing conditions on their release.  Furthermore, Shirley said the defendants have a long track record of abiding by laws and attending court during previous cases where there granted a conditional release.

Magistrate Shirley made the defendants "promise to obey" conditions that include staying off all government properties and federal facilities.  The judge also asked them to promise not to violate any state, federal, or local laws, "even if you disagree with them [the laws]."

Walli and Rice signed the agreements, which also state they must report to a probation officer and limit travel to their primary area of residence and East Tennessee.  Walli and Rice indicated they would be residing in the Washington D.C. area.



Boertje-Obed did not request a detainment hearing unless the judge would agree to make it a hearing for "unconditional release."  The judge said that was not what the detainment hearing offers, so Boertje-Obed decided to remain in jail for now.  He reserves the right to request a detainment hearing at a later date.

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