An appeals court has overturned the sabotage convictions of an 85-year-old nun and two fellow peace activists who broke into a facility storing much of this country's bomb-grade uranium and painted slogans and splashed blood on the walls.
In a 2-1 opinion issued on Friday, a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the most serious conviction against Sister Megan Rice, 66-year-old Michael Walli and 59-year-old Greg Boertje-Obed. The court upheld a conviction for injuring government property.
On July 28, 2012, the activists cut through several fences at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge to reach the uranium storage bunker. Once there, they hung banners, prayed and hammered on the outside wall of the bunker to symbolize a Bible passage that refers to the end of war: "They will beat their swords into ploughshares."
At issue was whether the nonviolent protest injured national security. The majority opinion of the appeals court found that it did not.
"If a defendant blew up a building used to manufacture components for nuclear weapons ... the government surely could demonstrate an adverse effect on the nation's ability to attack or defend. ... But vague platitudes about a facility's `crucial role in the national defense' are not enough to convict a defendant of sabotage," the opinion says.
Rice is serving a sentence of nearly three years. Walli and Boertje-Obed are each serving sentences of just over five years.
Defendant's attorney Bill Quigley said he hopes they will be re-sentenced to time served and released from prison.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee did not immediately comment on the ruling Friday.