Nun sentenced to 35 months in nuclear plant break-in via USA today

Break-in at Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., happened July 28, 2012.

An 84-year-old Catholic nun will spend nearly three years in federal prison for breaking into one of the U.S. government’s most secure facilities and helping deface a uranium-processing building with human blood, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

Megan Rice, who turned 84 on Jan. 31, and fellow anti-nuclear activists Michael Walli, 64, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 58, were convicted in May of sabotaging the plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn. All three are members of the Plowshares movement of Christian pacifists.


During a four-hour hearing Tuesday, Rice pleaded with the judge not to grant her leniency.

“Please have no leniency on me,” she said. “To remain in prison for the rest of my life would be the greatest honor you could give me.”


While acknowledging the three were convicted of a federal crime, they exposed serious security weaknesses at Y-12, the group said.

Edwin Lyman, a nuclear security expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in January that the protesters did the nation a public service.

“We think, even though they were convicted of a federal crime, there are mitigating circumstances and they made the country safer,” Lyman said.

The government has taken the case seriously. The three have been in custody since their conviction, and prosecutors recommended sentences of six to nine years.

A key issue Tuesday was how the judge should follow federal sentencing guidelines. Lawyers for the activists argued the time they already have served was sufficient punishment.

At the request of the judge, an Ohio University law professor filed a friend-of-the-court brief Tuesday that suggested the court had some flexibility in departing from the guidelines.

Douglas Berman, the Ohio University law professor, wrote that rare circumstances are just the type of events that a judge’s power of discretion were designed to cover.

William Quigley, a Loyola University New Orleans law professor working on behalf of the activists, said in court papers that the break-in was not the typical case of sabotage involving terrorists. Case law under the Federal Sabotage Act of 1918 is scarce.

“Michael, Greg, and Sister Megan are not the saboteurs, the spies, the bomb making terrorists, or the kind of offenders Congress anticipated when it created the Federal Sabotage Act” in 1918 and when it strengthened it in 1940 and 2001, Quigley wrote.

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