Court Throws Out Nun's Sabotage Conviction For Nuclear Site Break-In | KUOW News and Information

Court Throws Out Nun's Sabotage Conviction For Nuclear Site Break-In

May 13, 2015
Originally published on May 13, 2015 6:51 pm

From the moment she was taken into custody in 2012, outside a building that stores enriched uranium in Oak Ridge, Tenn., Sister Megan Rice has argued she has been driven by one thing — a desire to spread a message.

"And we all know that nuclear energy is linked inextricably with nuclear weapons," Rice told a group of activists in remarks captured on YouTube.

Prosecutors accused her of violating the Sabotage Act, intending to hurt the government's ability to wage war or defend itself.

But a federal appeals court has handed a victory to the 85-year-old nun. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit voted 2-1 to throw out the most serious charge, sabotage, against Rice.

The court said no rational juror could have concluded the nun and her two collaborators cut fences at the nuclear site to let al-Qaida slip in. And the court majority wrote, "it takes more than bad publicity to injure the national defense."

Bad publicity in 2012, about how three older protesters could have penetrated a supposedly secure site. And more attention this year, about harsh conditions in the Brooklyn detention center where the nun has been housed.

The appeals court pointed out that the nun has already served more time than necessary on the lesser charges against her. And her lawyers say if all goes well, she could be headed home within weeks.

Marc Shapiro of the Orrick law firm worked for free representing Rice and two men who took part in disruption.

"We felt from the moment we got this case that it was not properly charged. That although whatever one might say about their trespass or destruction of property that clearly their intent was not to injure the national defense," Shapiro said.

The Justice Department could still ask the full appeals court to reconsider the case. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney in Knoxville says the government is deciding what to do and until then, it won't comment.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have an update now on the story of Sister Megan. She's a nun and an activist at the age of 85, and she was convicted of breaking into a nuclear site. Now, an appeals court has handed her a victory. The court threw out the most serious charge, meaning she could soon be headed home, according to her lawyers. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: From the moment she was taken into custody in 2012 outside a building that stores enriched uranium in Oak Ridge, Tenn., Sister Megan Rice has argued she's been driven by one thing - a desire to spread a message. Here she is talking with a group of activists before her conviction.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SISTER MEGAN RICE: And we all know that nuclear energy is linked inextricably with nuclear weapons.

JOHNSON: Prosecutors accused her of violating the Sabotage Act, intending to hurt the government's ability to wage war or defend itself. Lawyer Marc Shapiro worked for free, representing Rice and two men who took part in the disruption.

MARC SHAPIRO: We felt from the moment we got this case that it was not properly charged, that although whatever one might say about their acts of trespass or destruction of property that clearly their intent was not to injure the national defense.

JOHNSON: And a three-judge panel has now agreed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit voted 2 to 1 to throw out the sabotage convictions. The court said no rational juror could have concluded the nun and her two collaborators cut fences at the site to let al-Qaida slip in. And the court majority wrote, quote, "it takes more than bad publicity to injure the national defense," bad publicity in 2012 about how three older protesters could have penetrated a secure site and more attention this year about harsh conditions in the Brooklyn detention center where the nun's been housed. The appeals court pointed out the nun's already served more time than necessary on the lesser charges against her, and her lawyer says, if all goes well, she might be free in a matter of weeks. That is, if the Justice Department doesn't ask the full appeals court to reconsider the case. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney in Knoxville says the government's deciding what to do, and until then, it won't comment. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.