Attorneys for Y-12 protester maneuver for reduced sentence; cite 2,000+ letters of support

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Michael Walli dances on Market Square Mall during a break in the May trial of the Plowshares protesters in U.S. District Court in Knoxville. (KNS photo/Saul Young)

Attorneys for Michael Walli are seeking a sentence well below the recommended guidelines for the Y-12 protester convicted on felony counts of depredation against government property and sabotage of the national defense.

In a memo filed Jan. 4 in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, Walli’s attorneys argued that a sentence of time-served or a sentence of one year in prison would accomplish the “goals of sentencing” or be in line with other similar cases involving peace activists carrying out protests at nuclear weapons facilities.

Walli and two other Plowshares protesters — Sister Megan Rice and Greg Boertje-Obed — were convicted on charges stemming from their July 28, 2012 break-in at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge. The three cut through four fences and avoided detection until they reached the plant’s high-security Protected Area, where they spray-painted slogans on structures and splashed human blood on the storehouse for bomb-grade uranium.

The recommended sentencing range for the 65-year-old Walli, who has prior convictions on protest-related charges, is 92 to 115 months in prison, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Knoxville.

Walli, Rice and Boertje-Obed have been incarcerated since their May 8 convictions, and they currently are housed in the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Ga. Their sentencing hearings are scheduled for Jan. 28 before U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar in Knoxville.

In arguing for a reduced sentence, Walli’s attorneys — William Quigley, a professor at the Loyola University New Orleans, and Chris Irwin — cited the defendant’s “upstanding moral character, the devotion of his life to serving his community and to peace, the nonviolent and symbolic nature of the offense itself,” as well as “the overwhelming amount of support both nationally and globally for defendants in this case.”

The attorneys also cited two similar cases involving protesters at nuclear weapons sites in which the sentences on the felony charges were reduced.

According to the court memo, more than 2,100 letters and postcards have been written to the court in support of the protesters, who collectively refer to themselves as the Transform Now Plowshares. The letters came from individuals or groups in 45 different states and 16 foreign countries.

“It is clear that these peace activists are not terrorists, but are rather trying to uphold international law with regard to the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty),” wrote Imogen Michel of Edinbugh, Scotland in an Aug. 10, 2013 letter to the federal judge.

U.S. attorneys have not yet responded to the sentencing memo for Walli.

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.