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84-Year-Old Nun and Two Peace Activists Sentenced to 2 to 5 Years in Prison for Nuclear Weapons Plant Break-in

By Vishakha Sonawane | Feb 19, 2014 04:51 AM EST

Nuclear
An aerial view of the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee is seen in this U.S. government handout photo released on August 3, 2012. Federal judge sentenced 84-year-old nun and two Catholic peace activists to 35 months and 62 months in jail, Tuesday, for breaking in into a nuclear weapons plant in Tennessee. (Photo : REUTERS/National Nuclear Security Administration/Handout)

A federal judge sentenced the 84-year-old nun, Megan Rice  to 35 months in jail and her accomplices,  two Catholic peace activists, to 62 months each, Tuesday, for breaking in to a nuclear weapons plant in Tennessee.

Sister Megan Rice, 65-year-old Michael Walli and 58-year-old Gregory Boertje-Obed, trespassed into the closely guarded Y-12 National Security Complex in July 2012 in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The trio were in the property for around two hours before security guards caught them. They were convicted last May for damaging national defense premises under the sabotage act and have been in custody for eight and a half months.

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The facility guards found the three protestors hanging banners, singing and offering to break bread with them. They also reportedly offered to share a Bible, candles and white roses, reports the Associated Press. The security lapse caused a major embarrassment for the U.S. government and promted congressial review of the security.

During the hearing, Rice told the judge Amul Thapar not to show any leniency toward her and give maximum punishment.  "To remain in prison for the rest of my life would be the greatest honor you could give me," she said, reports The Tennessean daily.

Thapar said he had difficulty in setting the right sentence to balance Rice's past good works with the need to dissuade others from breaking the law, reports the Agence France-Presse. He also said that the jail term sentence would deter other protestors from following the same path and bring them "back to the political system I fear that they have given up on."

The federal judge sentenced Walli and Boertje-Obed, who belong to the pacifist group Transform Now Plowshares, to five years and two months in prison because of their previous criminal records. Walli defended his actions saying that he acted in support of the rule of law. "I am the face of tomorrow. The face of demilitarization and vindication of the prophets," he said, reports The Washington Post.

In a 2012 interview with The New York Times, Rice spoke against the proliferation of  nuclear weapons and said, "It's the criminality of this 70-year industry. We spend more on nuclear arms than on the departments of education, health, transportation, disaster relief and a number of other government agencies that I can't remember."

The Times reported that the New York native has been arrested  around 50 times for acts of civil disobedience and once served a six-month jail term.

At Tuesday's hearing, over 100 supporters gathered in the two courtrooms at the U.S. District Court in Knoxville. The hearing was the continuation of the Jan. 28 trial that was postponed halfway due to a snowstorm. Judge Thapar had then ordered the three protestors to pay $52,953 to compensate for the damage at the nuclear facility.

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