Oct. 03--U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar this week denied a motion to acquit three Plowshares protesters on a charge of attempting to injure the national defense for the July 28, 2012, break-in at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge.
The judge also refused to grant a new trial for the three -- Sister Megan Rice, Michael Walli, and Greg Boertje-Obed -- who were convicted in May on two felony counts and are currently jailed in southern Georgia while awaiting their sentencing hearings in late January. The activists face up to 30 years in prison for their protest actions, which include cutting through four security fences at Y-12, spraying-painting messages and splashing human blood on the exterior of the Oak Ridge plant's storehouse for bomb-grade uranium.
After the prosecution presented its case during the early-May trial in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, defense attorneys filed a "Rule 29 motion," arguing that the evidence was insufficient, and asked Thapar to acquit the peace activists of the charges. Thapar denied the motion on the second count -- depredation of government property -- but did not immediately rule on the more serious charge, which falls under the Sabotage Act.
That motion for acquittal remained pending, even after the jury returned guilty verdicts on May 8.
In his opinion and order filed Tuesday, Thapar rejected the arguments, including that activists were peaceful, working for the better good, and never intended to interrupt the nation's defense work. The judge said information in the defendants' jailhouse calls and their testimony during trial indicated they wanted to interfere with Y-12's ability to produce and store weapons components.
He concluded, "The defendants are entitled to their views regarding the morality of nuclear weapons. But the defendants' sincerely held moral beliefs are not a get-out-of-jail-free card that they can deploy to escape criminal liability."
In an introductory statement, Thapar also noted the long-running controversy of maintaining a nuclear arsenal. "Reasonable people can disagree about the propriety of that decision. But such disagreement, even if inspired by deeply held moral views, must be constrained by a respect for the law," he wrote.
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