The federal government today filed new and more serious charges — felony destruction of property — against three protesters who sneaked into the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant last weekend and defaced the exterior of the Oak Ridge plant’s bomb-grade uranium storehouse with anti-war messages.
The new charges carry a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment, with a maximum fine of $250,000. A preliminary hearing is set for Aug. 9.
After arraigning the three protesters — Sister Megan Rice, 82, Las Vegas, Nev.; Michael Walli, 63, Washington, D.C., and Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, Duluth, Minn. — on the new charges, adding to the misdemeanor trespassing charges filed earlier this week, Federal Magistrate Judge G. Clifford Shirley held a lengthy hearing to determine whether to release two of the three protesters from jail pending their Oct. 9 trial date. Greg Boertje-Obed waived his right to a detention hearing, opting to stay in Blount County Jail for the time being.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Kirby argued that the defendants are a danger to the community, citing the nature of their acts inside Y-12 that could have resulted in their deaths and harm to others. She also said they were repeated offenders, with no respect for the law, and would surely do more of the same in the future.
Shirley said it was a difficult decision because the protesters’ alleged acts at Y-12 constituted violent crimes under one part of the federal statute, but he ultimately opted to release Rice and Walli. Their release from jail has multiple conditions stipulated by the magistrate, including their promise not to enter Y-12 or any other federal facility, turn in their passports and submit to supervision by a U.S. probation officer.
Both Rice and Walli vowed to live up to conditions of their release.
After listening to the arguments by Kirby and hearing the counter from the defendants and their lawyers, Shirley said he thought the danger to the community from their release was pretty low and said that the conditions of their release would help ensure any safety threats.
The federal magistrate judge said a reason that the three ended up in court in the first place is because of their principles and spritual commitments, and he said he believed them to be honest when they said they would comply with the conditions of their release.
Both Rice and Walli intended to live in Washinton, D.C., although the arrangements for Rice, a Catholic nun with Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, had to be cleared with a convent there. Walli indicated plans to live at a Catholic work facility where he has volunteered in years past.