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Y-12 Trial: Prosecution rests, defense calls Rice to stand

12:11 AM, May 8, 2013   |    comments
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Just before 6 pm, the government rested its case in the federal trial against three people who admit to trespassing and vandalism at the Y-12 nuclear weapons complex.

The three defendants, Michael Walli, 64, Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, and Sister Megan Rice, an 82-year-old nun, have all said they disagree with the nuclear program at the facility.

A large crowd gathered in Downtown Knoxville Tuesday to see the start of the federal trial of the three Y-12 trespassers. They all admit they cut through fences at the Oak Ridge Complex and vandalized the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility. Authorities charged the three suspects each with one count of sabotage and one count of property damage valued at more than $1,000 dollars.

The group filled two courtrooms, one where the trial is taking place and an overflow room with a monitor for people to watch. Many of the spectators were there to support the defendants.

During opening arguments, the U.S. Government claimed the trio was putting national security at risk by breaking into Y-12.

Walli's attorney, Chris Irwin, stated the protesters did not have weapons and never tried to break into any buildings. He asked the jury to draw a difference between symbolic protesters and an actual threat to national security.

Boertje-Obed, dressed in a blue, cotton t-shirt, also spoke for himself. He talked about his service in the U.S. Army, along with Walli. He also gave some background as to why they're part of the peace movement Transform Now Plowshares.

Rice's attorney, Francis Lloyd, also talked about Rice's background. He argued the manifesto the three drafted before the break-in shows they never thought they'd get as far as they did at the Complex. Lloyd echoed the theme of distinguishing between a symbolic act and an actual threat.

After opening statements, the prosecution called its first witness, Steven Earhart, to the stand. Earhart is the manager of the National Nuclear Security Administration's production office. He talked about the history of Y-12 and its current mission with regard to nuclear weapons.

Through the course of questioning, Earhart revealed the break-in actually delayed a secret convoy that was scheduled to carry a shipment into the Y-12 complex. He said the whole incident hurt the United States' credibility with countries abroad.

"It was an embarrassment for the Y-12 plant, for the good people who work there," he said in response to a question brought about by Lloyd.

One of the first guards to respond to the scene July 28 was Sergeant Chad Riggs. He said he received a call from his supervisor telling him to get to the Highly Enriched Uranium Manufacturing Facility [HEUMF] right away. When he got there, he met Security Police Officer Kirk Garland. Garland was the first person to encounter the accused trio.

Riggs told the prosecution he immediately ordered the three suspects to the ground once he got there. A redacted, 12-minute video provided by prosecution, showed Garland had failed to do the same when he first dealt with the suspects.

In the surveillance tape, Riggs and Garland could then be seen separating Walli from Boertje-Obed and Rice.

"Through my experience as a law enforcement officer, I had a feeling he [Walli] was the most dangerous one," Riggs testified.

Following the prosecution's physical presentation of hammers and bolt cutters that were used at the scene, the defense was then given the chance to cross examine Riggs.

Irwin then asked Riggs a series of questions regarding the threat the trio posed to Y-12.

"They haven't attempted to flee, have they?" Irwin questioned.
"No, sir," replied Riggs.

"Could you please point out any bullet holes in the side of the building?" Irwin further questioned.
"There are none," Riggs answered.

After the defense cross-examined Riggs, the prosecution called Garland to the stand. Garland told the prosecution he was dismissed from his job August 10, 2012.

"I guess the Department of Energy [DOE] did not like the way I handled the situation," he said.

Garland said he had an extensive background working at other DOE sites, including 21 years of experience at the Rocky Flats plant near Denver, Colorado. He said he knew from prior encounters, the trio that broke into Y-12 were peace protestors. He said because of that, he did not feel his life was threatened and therefore there was no need to use deadly force.

Following Garland, the prosecution called General Rodney Johnson to the stand. Johnson is the deputy general manager of Y-12 security operations. He told federal prosecutors it cost Y-12 $8,531 dollars to repair the damage the trio allegedly brought upon the complex. The total is more than the $7,000 needed to prove the three suspects committed damages in excess of $1,000. Receipts showed by the prosecution stated a majority of the expenses were labor-intensive, involving carpentry and paint work.

The last witness called to the stand was DOE Special Agent Ryan Baker. He retrieved evidence from the scene. He also collected the recorded phone calls the trio made while at the Blount County Detention Center.

The prosecution played those recordings for the court to hear. In one phone call, Boertje-Obed talked to an unknown caller about going through the "Perimeter Lethal Zone" at Y-12. He also discussed how he identified the HEUMF.

In another recording, Boertje-Obed can be heard talking about how he, Rice and Walli put up banners and accomplished everything they had previously wanted to do outside of the building.

One more call revealed Boertje-Obed admitting the trio spray painted numerous quotes on the HEUMF. They included, "Woe to an empire of blood", "The fruit of justice is peace" and "Work for peace not war".

Around 5pm, the United States rested its case. The defense then called its first witness to the stand, Sister Megan Rice.

Rice's attorney, Francis Lloyd, then her questions regarding her background. He wanted to know about Rice's education, where she grew up and what influenced her to become a part of the anti-nuclear weapon movement.

After about 30 minutes of questioning, the focus then moved toward what Rice did the day she allegedly broke into Y-12.

She said she, Walli and Boertje-Obed got to Oak Ridge 2:30am the morning of the alleged incident. Rice said she just hoped the trio were going in the right direction when they entered Y-12, but admitted she was exactly sure where the HEUMF was.

"I didn't think Greg knew where we were going," Rice told the court.

She later testified the trio had no plan as to what they would do if they encountered security personnel in the complex.

Lloyd then questioned Rice about what the trio physically did to the HEUMF, in terms of vandalism. She said when it came to the spray paint and blood, the Department of Energy likely spent too much money trying to fix up the facility. Rice told the court DOE probably could have used "whitewash" to clean up the mess and save a lot of the money in the process.

"I could have repaired it" Rice added.

The trial dismissed around 5:50pm Tuesday, before the prosecution ever got a chance to cross-examine Rice. The judge said the trial would resume at 9am Wednesday.

10News caught up with Rice following the trial. She said she was encouraged by the proceedings.

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