Jurors find Y-12 protesters guilty on all charges

Jurors find Y-12 protesters guilty on all charges

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By MIKE KRAFCIK
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Three protesters on trial for trespassing on the Y-12 National Security Complex were found guilty Wednesday on all charges.

Upon hearing the guilty verdict, Michael Walli, Sister Megan Rice and Greg Boertje-Obed, members of Transform Now Plowshares remained relaxed, perhaps even joyous.

The three even sang along to protest hymns before being handcuffed and taken into custody.

The three were on trial for trespassing on Y-12 property last summer, cutting fence, spreading human blood and spray painting messages.

"They're at peace about this, they're peace makers, and they knew that they risked this. Nobody is happy to go jail but they understand," said Joe Quigley, attorney for Michael Walli.

All three took the stand Wednesday before the defense rested their case. The three defendants admitted to breaking in to the complex as part of a nuclear weapons protest.

They face sentencing on two charges: willingly destroying government property under what's known as The Sabotage Act and "depredation against property of the United States" with damages exceeding $1,000.

Sentences of up to 30 years in prison are possible.

Rice took the stand first Wednesday and was cross-examined by prosecutors. When asked about violating U.S. laws, she said the protestors were keeping the law of the land.

Rice said she considers herself a citizen of the world and said that all boundaries were "arbitrary."

She described her career and said she had spent over 40 years in Africa. She testified that she was inspired to break in to the Y-12 complex after seeing a break in at a submarine in California.

Rice also said she didn't regret what she had done, only that she had not done it sooner, "My guilt is that I waited 70 years to speak," she testified.

Michael Walli took the stand next and described his background, including his service in Vietnam and time spent homeless.

When asked by prosecutors whether he believed they committed crimes at Y-12, Walli said the group's actions were morally equivalent to cutting the fences at Auschwitz in Nazi Germany.

Walli also discussed a previous felony conviction in which he said he and a Catholic priest entered a missile silo in North Dakota.

In his testimony, Greg Boertje-Obed echoed the sentiments of his co-defendants saying the group did not mean to harm the Y-12 facility or national security in general.

Like Rice and Walli, Boertje-Obed said he had no remorse over the incident and was glad he did it.

During the closing arguments, the defense argued that offering bread and lighting candles was a symbol of offering peace, and not destruction.

When prosecutors insinuated that he trespassed on the property for media attention, Boertje-Obed said the group only talked to media when approached and did not seek it out.

Defense attorneys argued that the protestors did not harm or threaten national security, and that they, in fact, helped by exposing a weakness in security at the Y-12 complex.

Attorney Joe Quigley said that being for disarmament is not the same as intending to injure national defense.

"Don't blame the thermometer for the fever," he said. "They were the thermometer that pointed out the fever."

U.S. Assistant Attorney Joe Theodore argued that Y-12 is a unique facility that contributes to national defense.

"When you are interfering with Y-12, you are interfering with national defense," he said.

Theodore compared the situation to a home burglary. If a burglar breaks in to your home and you didn't have sufficient security, is it the homeowner's fault?

Theodore added that it was clear the protesters meant to interfere with national security, "Why else would they go there," he said.

Anne Wright testified as a security expert on behalf of the defense. Wright served 29 years in the U.S. Military, and says she oversaw embassies across the world.

She helped to reopen the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in December 2001, before resigning because of the U.S. involvement in the Iraq War

Wright is currently a self-proclaimed "peace protester."

Wright offered her opinion that the group never posed a real security risk.

Wright contends the complex didn't mean security was threatened because the group never had malicious intent, she contends.

Wright says Oak Ridge is more secure today than it was before the July 28th breech.

The case was handed over to the jury, which is made up of nine men and three women, just after 4 p.m.

A verdict was returned around 6 p.m.

"They are kind of like modern day martyrs. Especially if they have a long sentence," said Jerry Dawada, a Transform Now Plowshare protester.

"It's very rarely when  has the government has given a sabotage charge had they lost," said Patrick O'Neil, a writer for the National Catholic Reporter. 

O'Neil has covered around dozen Now Plowshares cases since the 1980s.

Rice, Walli and Boerjte-Obed all say they were led by the spirit and religious beliefs.

Motivations that were likely a tough sell for jurors, according to O'Neil.

"These are jurors who are coming into the case and it's very different, very unusual, very out of the range of anything considered normal. To get an acquittal on this you would have to have someone with some very deep spiritual thinking, " O'Neil said.

The three were placed in custody after the verdict was read and were taken to the Blount County Detention Center.

Federal prosecutors contend that  a congressional mandate requires individuals convicted under the "Sabotage Act" to remain detained until the sentencing hearing.

U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar said the congressional ruling was written was unclear, and that he would study the guidelines overnight.

The judge said he make a determination during a Thursday hearing at 9 a.m.

Defense attorneys have asked the judge to throw out the sabotage conviction, based on what they believe is a lack of evidence.

"We still have a chance to wipe that decision out in the next couple weeks," said Joe Quigley, attorney for Michael Walli.

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