A U.S. federal judge this week turned down a request to allow a new trial for three peace activists that were arrested in 2012 for sneaking into a secured area of the Y-12 nuclear weapons facility in Tennessee, the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported on Thursday.
Megan Rice, an 83-year-old Catholic nun, along with fellow Transform Now Plowshares members Greg Boertje-Obed, 56, and Michael Walli, 64, were found guilty in May on two felony charges of interfering with national security and damaging government property through their July 2012 break-in at the Y-12 National Security Complex. The aging protesters cut through a number of fences in order to reach the exterior of the site's highly enriched uranium storehouse, which they proceeded to decorate with peace advocacy signs. They also dumped a bucket of blood onto the scene before they were arrested.
District Judge Amul Thapar in his ruling, released on Tuesday, disagreed with the defense's argument the activists did not plan to cause harm to national defense, saying their court testimony and phone conversations while in jail suggested they wanted to undermine the Y-12 complex's capacity to manufacture and stockpile warhead parts.
"The defendants are entitled to their views regarding the morality of nuclear weapons," Thapar wrote. "But the defendants' sincerely held moral beliefs are not a get-out-of-jail-free card that they can deploy to escape criminal liability."
The judge also refused a separate motion to acquit the activists.
The three protesters are presently in jail in southern Georgia. Sentencing hearings have been planned for late January. The charges carry penalties of a maximum of 30 years behind bars.
The break-in incident was a huge embarrassment to the contractors that operate and guard the Tennessee site and to the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration, which manages the U.S. nuclear-weapons complex. Members of Congress have suggested different actions for improving the agency's ability to monitor U.S. weapon facilities.