Grand jury indicts Y-12 protesters on additional felony charge; tougher max penalties

8:12 PM, Aug 9, 2012   |    comments
  • Sister Mary Dennis Lentsch speaks with Sister Megan Rice outside the federal courthouse in Knoxville.
  • Sister Mary Dennis Lentsch crosses the Y-12 barricade in 2002.
  • Indicted Y-12 protester Michael Walli
  • Sister Megan Rice
  • Sister Mary Dennis Lentsch arrested after crossing the Y-12 barricade in 2002.
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A federal grand jury has indicted three nuclear weapons protesters who are accused of an unprecedented break-in and vandalism at the Y-12 National Security Complex.  The indictment includes a new felony charge with tougher penalties.

Last week prosecutors revealed they would pursue a felony charge of destruction of government property in a special government maritime territory and a misdemeanor charge of federal trespassing. The indictment presented in court Thursday revealed a second felony charge for causing more than $1,000 in damage to government property "by means of cutting, painting, and defacing."

This latest felony charge carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and up to three years supervised release.  That is a stronger penalty than two other previous charges.  With the new indictment that combines all three counts, the defendants could face a maximum sentence of up to 16 years behind bars.

The charges stem from a July 28 break-in when 63-year-old Michael Walli, 57-year-old Greg Boertje-Obed, and 82-year-old Catholic nun Megan Rice were arrested outside the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF) at Y-12.  The trio supports the "Transform Now Plowshares" peace movement that opposes nuclear weapons. 

The protesters cut through several fences before spray painting messages on the outside of the building, splashing it with human blood, and holding a peace ritual before they were eventually caught.  The episode forced Y-12 to halt nuclear production while it reviews security.

Sister Rice Reflects

"This is a very, very critical situation for the world and we should be thankful that they are beginning to think about it [security]," said Rice following Thursday's court appearance.  "All we want is the truth to come out about the criminality of nuclear weapons and their fallout on this planet for 70 years."

Rice said was not afraid during the break-in or the subsequent encounter with security.

"It never bothers me when guns are pointed at me," said Rice.  "I was at total peace. Total peace. There was no fear.  They [the guards] were gentle."

"People should work for life and not for death, for peace and not for war," said defendant Michael Walli.  "There are no nuclear warheads in heaven.  He [Jesus] does not want any on earth either."

Familiar Support

Several anti-nuclear weapons activists were on hand Thursday to provide a demonstration of support for the defendants.  Among the supporters was Mary Dennis Lentsch, a Catholic nun who has served time in federal prisons for trespassing at Y-12.

"Nuclear weapons are instruments of death and massive destruction, so I see them as evil," said Lentsch.  "I know what they [the defendants] are going through right now."

Lentsch spent two months in federal prison for trespassing after she crossed a barricade at a Y-12 protest in 2002.  She repeated the action in July 2010 and served three months in prison.

Lentsch says she and other protesters heavily examine every possible consequence before deciding to cross the line.

"It's done in a prayerful discernment process. You have some idea of what you might be facing," said Lentsch.  "In that discernment process beforehand, there is a realization that once you have done the action you lose all control of what is going to happen to you."

The current charges against the three defendants carry much steeper penalties than what Lentsch faced.  Rice said she is ready to endure a prison sentence of any length.

"For the rest of my life," said Rice.  "Truth is the reason."

Release Intact

For now both Rice and Walli are released on the condition they stay out of any federal facilities.  They also must restrict travel to East Tennessee and current living arrangements at a Catholic Worker House in Washington, DC.  Boertje-Obed has decided to remains in custody rather than seek a conditional release.

A PDF of the indictment outlines the three criminal counts charged against the protesters.  They breakdown as follows:

1.  Felony count of destruction of property inside a special maritime jurisdiction. Maximum penalty of up to five years in prison, up to $250,000 fine, and no more than three years supervised release.

2.  Felony count of "cutting, painting and defacing" Y-12 property and causing damage greater than $1,000.  Maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison, up to a $250,000 fine, and no more than three years supervised release.

3.  Misdemeanor count of federal trespassing.  Maximum penalty of one year in prison, up to a $100,000 fine, and no more than one year supervised release.

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