Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | May 28, 2015

Sixth Circuit Reverses Sabotage Conviction of Oak Ridge Anti-Nuke Protesters

Last year, we wrote about the conviction and sentencing of three activists who broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Judge Thapar sentenced the defendants Walli and Boertje-Obed to 62 months; the other defendant, Sister Megan Rice, got 35 months. This was in February 2014.

Earlier this month, the Sixth Circuit reversed the convictions of the sabotage count and remanded for resentencing.

The appellate court’s opinion is here (PDF, 14 pages). From the beginning of the opinion:

In the dark of night on July 28, 2012, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, an 82 year-old nun and two Army veterans, ages 57 and 63, cut their way through four layers of fences and reached a building where the Department of Energy stores enriched uranium. There the trio spray-painted antiwar slogans, hung crime tape and banners with biblical phrases, splashed blood, and sang hymns. When a security guard finally arrived, the group offered him bread and read aloud a prepared message about “transform[ing] weapons into real life-giving alternatives to build true peace.” Then the group surrendered to the guard’s custody.

The group’s actions caused about $8,000 of damage to government property. The government eventually charged them with trespassing in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2278a(c) and injuring government property in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1361. When the defendants refused to plead guilty to those charges, however, the government pulled the trespassing count (which was only a misdemeanor) and instead charged them with violating the peacetime provision of the Sabotage Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2155(a), which Congress enacted during World War II. 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. A jury convicted the defendants on the sabotage count and the injury-to-property count. On appeal, the defendants argue that, as a matter of law, they lacked the intent necessary to violate the Sabotage Act. We agree; and thus we reverse their sabotage convictions and remand for resentencing.

As I write, my understanding is that all three defendants have been released from custody pending resentencing; it is likely that the district court will sentence them to time served.

More on this in a later post.


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