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February 17, 2014

Sentencing round two for elderly nun and two other peace activists for breaking into a federal defense facility

Sister Megan RiceThis new report from The Guardian, headlined "84-year-old nun who broke into Tennessee weapons plant awaits fate," spotlights a high-profile federal sentencing case (previously discussed in this post) that is scheduled for final sentencing tomorrow morning.  Here are excerpts:

An 84-year-old nun who broke into a Tennessee weapons plant and daubed it with biblical references, will learn on Tuesday whether she will spend what could be the rest of her life in prison.

Two weeks ago, at a sentencing hearing, a judge ordered Sister Megan Rice and her co-defendants, two other Catholic anti-nuclear activists, Greg Boertje-Obed, 58, and Michael Walli, 64, to pay $53,000 for what the government estimated was damage done to the plant by their actions.

All three defendants were convicted of sabotage after the break-in at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, on 28 July 2012. The charge, under a statute of the US criminal code used against international and domestic terrorism, carries a maximum sentence of up to 30 years. The government have asked for the trio to be given prison sentences of between five and nine years. They would have learned their fate in the January hearing, but it was cut short due to bad weather and rescheduled for Tuesday.

In an interview with the Guardian from Knox county jail as she awaited her fate, Rice said she hoped US district judge Amul Thapar would seize the opportunity to “take his place in history” and sentence them in a way that would reflect their symbolic, non-violent actions – actions she said that were intended to highlight the US stockpile of nuclear weapons they believe is immoral and illegal.

“I hope he will answer his conscience,” said Rice, in an interview 24 hours before the last sentencing hearing. “He knows what to do.” She and her co-defendants have been in prison, mostly in Ocilla, Georgia, for eight months, a period of time her lawyers say is sufficient punishment for the break-in.

Thapar has received hundreds of letters and a 14,000 signature petition pleading for leniency in this case, including from Rice’s religious order, the Society for the Holy Jesus, which asked for a reduced or suspended sentence given “her age, her health and her ministry”. Lawyers for Rice, Boertje-Obed, a Vietnam veteran from Washington DC and Walli, a painter from Duluth, Minnesota, have asked for leniency and say the trio admitted have what they did.

The US government contends that none of the defendants arguments merit leniency. At the hearing on 28 January, it said they did not accept they had committed crimes, took no responsibility for them, showed no contrition and, then, during the trial, proceeded to argue against the laws they had broken. It has described the three, who have previous convictions related to their protest activities, as “recidivists and habitual offenders”.

Jeffery Theodore, assistant US attorney general for the eastern district of Tennessee, told the court that the three “pretty much celebrated their acts”.  At the January hearing, he described their argument that they were trying to uphold international law as “specious and disingenuous” and said there had been no single case where international law has been seen as justification for breaking US laws.  The judge agreed with Theodore that the defendants were not remorseful and that they didn’t accept any responsibilities for their crimes, and said they would not be given downward departures for admitting responsibility.

At the January hearing, four character witnesses for the defendants gave powerful testimony about their strong Christian and pacifist principles, their commitment to helping others and their dedication to their cause. They, and the scores of supporters crowded into the courtroom, also provided an insight into the close-knit nature of the anti-nuclear faith community.

Regular readers are surely not surprised to hear that I find this federal sentencing case very interesting for a number of reasons.  But they may be surprised to learn that US District Judge Amul Thapar used the sentencing break/delay as an opportunity to request that I submit a "friend-of-the-court brief" to assist the Court as it tackled some challenging issues concerning the departure requests made by one of the defendants. I was honored and grateful to be able to provide such assistance directly to the court, and below I have uploaded Judge Thapar's order (which requests my submission at the end) and my submission in response:

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February 17, 2014 at 10:46 PM | Permalink

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Comments

An extremely sharp judge (whom I've had the pleasure of appearing before) requests guidance from an extremely sharp professor (who taught me criminal law). Very cool, Professor...congrats.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Feb 18, 2014 9:49:28 AM

I am not resumitting, editing, or changing anything. I would appreciate my critical but helpful comment restored and not censored, just because a judge is involved. I had a language remark. I had a legally substantive remark.

I can tell people that very aggressive lawyers all stop at attacking judges personally. There is a lawyer taboo against even mild criticisms of these oppressive little tyrants. That is very cult. For example, a powerful Congressman threatened and criticized the judiciary. A witch hunt began on him, drove him out of office and sought to drive him into prison, falsely, his having done nothing illegal or wrong. The message went out. I have not heard a single Congress person criticize a single judge since then.

This is appalling.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 18, 2014 2:48:56 PM

Well, 3 years, certainly more than a merely symbolic term. It would be interesting to have known before she did it whether that would have been sufficient disincentive so that she would not have committed the crime.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Feb 19, 2014 12:59:00 AM

Well, "Let them call me rebel and welcome" is a saying long used by American subversives from the revolution onwards. Good luck to them.

Posted by: Marko | Feb 19, 2014 10:16:22 PM

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In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB