Unexpected snow Tuesday in East Tennessee delayed the sentencing of an 83-year-old Catholic nun and two other anti-nuclear activists convicted of breaking into one of the U.S. government's most secure facilities and defacing a uranium-processing building with human blood.
The federal courthouse in Knoxville closed early Tuesday and the trio's sentencing hearing will continue Feb. 18, said Sharry Dedman-Beard, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney William Killian. But before shutting down court proceedings for the day, a federal judge ordered the three to pay nearly $53,000 in restitution for damaging government property during the 2012 protest.
The July 2012 break-in at the Y-12 National Security Complex was brazen. The three Plowshares peace activists cut through fences, made it through multiple layers of security and had time to splash blood on the outside of the building where the government processes weapons-grade uranium before security personnel apprehended them.
In May, Megan Rice, now 83; Michael Walli, 64;, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 58, were convicted of sabotaging the plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Rice turns 84 on Friday.
They could have faced life in prison, but the government recommended sentences of six to nine years in prison. They have been in custody since their conviction.
The three have garnered worldwide attention. Dozens of people gathered Tuesday in with temperatures in the teens for a chance to get a seat inside the courtroom for the sentencing, and thousands of letters of support have poured in from around the world.
The activists sought leniency from the court, arguing that their actions were symbolic and meant to draw attention to the nation's stockpile of nuclear weapons. They call the weapons immoral and illegal.
The incident prompted the Department of Energy to take immediate action in wake of the security breach. It increased patrols and removed the guards' general manager and two of his key staff.
Congress had hearings and newly appointed Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz called the break-in unacceptable. Security experts have said the breach raised questions about not just how the nation protects its nuclear weapons and materials but how the private companies secure civilian sites such as nuclear-power plants.
Edwin Lyman, a nuclear security expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, which wrote the court to ask for leniency for the three, said Tuesday that the protesters did the nation a public service in exposing the security weaknesses.
"We think, even though they were convicted of a federal crime, there are mitigating circumstances and they made the country safer," Lyman said.
Rice, who has served time in federal prison for prior protests, has made no apologies for her actions at the Y-12 facility.
"I felt I was at a stage when I could try to make a louder message, to express a louder message," she told The Tennessean in an interview last year.
The three picked July 28 for their protest because it was close to the anniversary dates of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.
"We felt this was our obligation to make known" what was happening at Y-12, she said.
"So much blood has been shed or would be shed by any of the (nuclear) weapons. ... I had prepared myself, if I was called upon, to die for this truth. I would certainly be willing to die for such a message," Rice said.
Federal prosecutors took the case seriously.
"The defendants have been convicted of serious offenses that have caused real harm to the Y-12 National Security Complex. They have shown no remorse for their criminal conduct," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Theodore wrote in court documents earlier this month.
"To the contrary, they have reveled in their violations and used it to gain publicity for their cause. 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," Theodore wrote. "The United States believes that the defendants should be held accountable for their deliberate choices and accept the appropriate consequences for their actions."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - An 83-year-old Catholic nun will soon find out whether she spends what could be the rest of her life in prison.
Sentencing for Sister Megan Rice and two other Catholic peace activists is scheduled for Tuesday. They were convicted of sabotage last year after breaking into a nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
The government has recommended sentences of about six to nine years for Rice, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed. It also is seeking restitution of nearly $53,000.
The activists are asking for leniency. They say their actions were symbolic and meant to draw attention to America's stockpile of nuclear weapons, which they call immoral and illegal.
Sentencing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday at U.S. District Court in Knoxville.