A federal appeals court has vacated the 2014 convictions handed down to three anti-nuclear activists—a nun and two army veterans—and ordered a lower court to re-sentence them.
Sister Megan Rice, Greg Boertje-Obed, and Michael Walli were convicted last year of damaging national defense premises under the Sabotage Act after the activists entered the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in July 2012.
85-year-old Rice was originally sentenced to 35 months, while Boertje-Obed and Walli were sentenced to 62 months each.
However, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last Friday that the government failed to prove that the activists, who are part of the pacifist anti-nuclear group Transform Now Plowshares, intended to "injure the national defense," which is required under the Sabotage Act.
"They were nonviolent protestors in the tradition of Gandhi, not saboteurs. We are pleased the Sixth Circuit appreciated the difference."
—Ralph Hutchison, Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance
"That provision applies only if the defendant acted 'with intent to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense,' and authorizes a sentence of up to 20 years," the court said (pdf). "A jury convicted the defendants on the sabotage count and the injury-to-property count."
After entering the compound, the activists went into a Department of Energy building which contained enriched uranium and "pray-painted antiwar slogans, hung crime tape and banners with biblical phrases, splashed blood, and sang hymns," the ruling states. They also struck the building with small hammers, which delayed a shipment that was scheduled to arrive that afternoon.
"No rational jury could find that the defendants had that intent when they cut the fences; they did not cut them to allow al Qaeda to slip in behind," the ruling continues. "Nor could a rational jury find that the defendants had that intent when they engaged in their protest activities outside the [Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility]."
As Kevin Gosztola wrote last week at Firedoglake, "Such a conclusion is a huge victory for activists, because it means the government cannot stand in court and equate an act of protest with sabotage without evidence of motive."
"The purpose of the action of Michael, Megan and Greg was to call attention to the ongoing production of thermonuclear weapons components at the bomb plant in Oak Ridge and, more specifically, to oppose plans to build a new, multi-billion dollar bomb plant—the Uranium Processing Facility—at Y12," said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, after the decision was announced. "They were nonviolent protestors in the tradition of Gandhi, not saboteurs. We are pleased the Sixth Circuit appreciated the difference."
It is unclear when the re-sentencing will take place.