Catholic nun Sister Megan Rice, 83; House painter Michael R. Walli, 64; and laborer Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, were all found guilty Wednesday of damaging government property and injuring national defense after breaking into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in July of last year.
During the trial and in interviews, the protesters admitted sneaking into Y-12 and cutting through three fences before vandalizing the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, where most of the nation’s bomb-grade uranium is stored, reports The Washington Post.
The vandalism -- spray-painted biblical messages of nonviolence -- was intended "to bring healing and forgiveness and love," Rice said. But the intent was also to disrupt operations with a "symbolic disarming of Y-12."
Prosecutors argued that the security breach interfered with national defense. A secret shipment of materials that had been scheduled to arrive that day had to be delayed, and nuclear operations shut down for about two weeks, prosecutors said.
The breach damaged Y-12′s credibility, and it cost $8,532 to repair fences and pressure wash and paint damaged walls and barricades, the prosecution and its witnesses said.
But defense lawyers argued the facility should be thankful the peaceful activists brought serious security issues to light, including nonoperational cameras, leading to federal investigations, congressional hearings and terminations.
“Three senior citizens showing up with backpacks is a threat to the United States of America?” defense attorney William Quigley asked the court. “That threatens us? I don’t think so."
Sentencing for Rice, Walli and Boertje-Obed is expected within four months. Together, the two felonies carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. Defense attorneys have filed a motion for acquittal on the injuring national defense charge, which falls under "sabotage" in U.S. code, on the grounds the government did not provide sufficient evidence.