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Greg Boertje-Obed released, awaiting Y-12 trial

Video interview with Greg, click to view.

Greg Boertje-Obed was released from Blount County Detention Center at 8:30pm on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 to await trial, currently scheduled fro February 26, 2013. Greg, along with Sr. Megan Rice and Mike Walli, formed the Transform Now Plowshares action which entered the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex on July 28, 2012, penetrated the high security “exclusion zone” with a pair of low tech bolt cutters, and hammered, prayed, painted “Swords into Plowshares” and poured blood on the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility in Oak Ridge, TN.They were protesting ongoing nuclear weapons production at Y12 and plans for a new $7.5 billion bomb plant, the UPF, slated to begin construction this fall. Greg has been in Blount County Jail since July 28. His co-defendants, Megan and Mike, accepted release in July following their arraignment. Additional reports from court can be found on OREPA’s web site: http://www.orepa.org.

Greg’s release came as a result of his request for a detention hearing following the reset of the trial date from October to February. He had originally declined to seek release, but told the judge he was now prompted by the difficulty of trying to consult with co-defendants in preparing for trial and by family concerns.

At the detention hearing, Assistant District Attorney Melissa Kirby rehearsed her well-worn reasons why Greg should be locked up, adding that he had warned the court earlier he would not accept or comply with conditions of release. Then the judge asked her if Greg, with his lengthy record, had in any instance not shown up for court. She admitted she had no evidence of that. “He was convicted numerous times in the past, so I assume he was in court,” she said. “However, in this case he said he would not appear.” “I don’t believe he said that,” the judge said.

Greg told the judge he had a 100% record of appearance in prior cases for “anything I have been arrested for, all of which, in my opinion, were ‘good deeds.’”

The judge subjected Greg to a lengthy interrogation—an apparent payback for Greg’s earlier refusal to accept release unless the judge declared nuclear weapons to be a war crime. In the end, after Greg attempted to explain his living situation at the Catholic Worker in Duluth (“Is it a part of the Catholic Church?” “No.” Is it affiliated with any church?” “No, but many churches contribute to our work.” “How did it get the name, then?” “In 1933, the name Catholic Worker was chosen by the founders.” “Huh.”) The judge then asked Greg what he did in Duluth and Greg said he found work painting houses, landscaping, and volunteering hospitality to homeless and others in need.

Finally indicating that he might accede to Greg’s request, the judge asked about what he would do if he were released. “Do you have a place to stay locally until you can get a bus to Duluth?” Erik Johnson rose from the audience. “My wife Libby and I would be honored to provide hospitality to Greg.”

The judge took a recess. When he returned, he walked the court through all the guidance provided to judges in making detention determinations. “His record of appearance is good,” said the judge, “by his own word, one hundred percent.” Responding to the prosecution’s assertion that Greg posed a danger to the community, the judge said, “He poses little danger. In fact, it may be that some people in Duluth will benefit if he returns to his normal activities.” Finally, the judge said, “Taking in the totality of factors, Mr. Obed appears to be an appropriate case to release.”

Then the judge offered an aside, “In my experience in these kinds of cases, and I’ve had several (actually two), in the cases of these Y12 protesters, and I think we may have some in the audience, I see Sister Lentsch there…in my experience these protesters actually want to attend trial. Candidly, I don’t think I could keep them from it. Part of the express purpose of their action is to publicize the production of nuclear weapons, and they view their arrest and trial as part of the publicity. So right or wrong, he’s likely to appear.”

Turning to Greg, the judge said, “Mr. Obed, I think you’re a man of your word. Before, you told me you would not agree to conditions or agree not to break any laws if you were released, and I think you meant it. Now you say you will, and I think you mean it. If you do, you will remain out and will be able to do good while you are out.”

With that, the judge declared that Greg would be released that evening, and five hours later he walked out of Blount County Jail. He will leave for Duluth on the Megabus at 11:30am, Wednesday, September 12. His departure coincides with the opening of Congressional hearings in Washington, DC, on the Transform Now Plowshares security breach at the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex.

Trial date reset for Feb 26; Sister Megan injured wrists

Court Update from Ralph Hutchison:

Judge Shirley arrived in court a few minutes late for the Transform Now Plowshares hearing on Friday, September 7, but it gave us time to visit a bit with Greg Boertje-Obed when he arrived, in stripes and shackles, from Blount County Detention Center. Greg looked and sounded healthy, inquired about his co-defendants, and then settled into a conversation with his “elbow counsel.”

When the judge arrived, he declared that he would hear motions for a continuance in the case, originally scheduled for trial on October 9.

By the time it was over, he had made several rulings and established a new calendar. The trial is now scheduled for February 26, 2013, though it is not entirely clear that date will hold.

The motions were dispensed with in a straightforward hearing. The government did not object to the granting of a continuance, though they did dispute the request from the defendants that the case be designated “complex.” In the end, the judge said he would not designate the case “complex,” but he would also not agree it was not—the defense could come back and argue another day if necessary.

The prosecution told the court it had provided initial discovery and would be releasing the second (and likely final) batch of discovery materials today or Monday. The defendants suggested it was quite possible they would seek additional materials in discovery which might lead to hearings and even litigation. The judge urged them to see what was forthcoming and attempt to resolve any outstanding issues informally with the government and the defendants agreed.

As the 50 minute hearing drew to a close, the judge set new dates:

  • Motions deadline: October 9
  • Response to motions: October 30
  • Motions hearing:  November 20, 9:30am
  • Plea cut-off: January 25
  • Trial:    February 26

Note: Many may have already heard that Sister Megan Rice fell and suffered two broken wrists late last week. She is recovering; new casts have been placed on her wrists that enable her to use her fingers. Megan is seeking permission to relocate to Rosemont, PA where her community can better provide for her rehabilitation. The judge this morning indicated the decision rests with the probation office. If and when Megan moves, we will try to post updated contact info on this site and on the OREPA web site: www.orepa.org.

Transform Now Plowshares Indicted on Three Counts

This is the fourth report from federal court in Knoxville, TN on the Transform Now Plowshares case.
At least a dozen supporters gathered before Judge Shirley in federal court in Knoxville, TN, at 9:30am on Thursday, August 9, 2012, mindful of the people of Nagasaki who perished in the atomic bombing of that Japanese city sixty-seven years ago. We were in court for the proceedings against the three people whose courageous witness, Transform Now Plowshares, sought to bring attention and justice to the continuing production of nuclear weapons at the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Judge Shirley began by announcing that a grand jury had handed down an indictment charging the Plowshares activists with three counts:
            1. aiding and abetting each other in the depredation of federal property at the Y12 National Security Complex and causing damage in excess of $1,000 (maximum penalty 10 yrs imprisonment and $250K fine);
            2. aiding and abetting in each other in the damage or injury or planned damage or injury to real or personal property at the Y12 National Security Complex (maximum penalty 5 yrs. imprisonment and $250K fine);
            3. trespass on the Y12 National Security Complex (maximum penalty 1 year imprisonment; $100K fine).
            Special assessments totaling $250 are added to each defendant, along with the possibility of supervision after completion of any prison sentence for up to 3 years.
The charges were not a great surprise. After reading the indictment the judge indicated the hearing would now turn into an arraignment. He reaffirmed the appointment of counsel for each defendant and asked for pleas. Mike Walli and Megan Rice pled “Not Guilty,” Greg Boertje-Obed offered an initial plea “for the disarming of all weapons and hearts.” The judge asked him again to plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest. Greg pled “for the transforming of our nation and the world.” Frustrated, the judge reminded Greg of the rules governing the court and threatened to  revoke his self-representation unless he “conducted himself properly” by conforming to the rules of the court. Greg said he wanted to enter a “creative plea;” the judge said that was not possible under the rules of the court, and Greg pled not guilty.
The judge said Mike and Megan would be allowed to remain free until trial, noting the government’s exception to his ruling, and that Greg would remain in custody. Both Mike and Mega will be traveling to the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in Washington, DC on Saturday, August 10. Supporters can write to them at 503 Rock Creek Church Rd NW, Washington, DC 20010.
Magistrate Judge Shirley noted that, with the handing down of an indictment, the actual trial would be handled by US Judge Thomas Phillips, but Shirley will continue to preside over the preliminaries.
A revamped schedule was developed:
October 10:                        Trial
August 16 (w/leniency):            Discovery
            The judge had a bench conference at the request of the prosecution about the discovery. A later comment by Megan’s attorney, Francis Lloyd, intimated that the government may be considering a contention that some discoverable material can not be seen by the counsel and defendants; the judge said that would be ruled on if/when such a motion were made.
September 4:                         Motions cut off
September 17:             Response to Gov’t motions
September 18:                        Pretrial conference/motions hearing (if necessary) 9:00am
                                    Reciprocal discovery deadline
                                    Plea cut-off
The last thing before adjournment was the dismissal of the earlier charges filed by the government in lieu of the indictments handed down by the grand jury.

Felony charges and two releases for Y-12 plowshares activists

from: Ralph Hutchison

* * *

As the afternoon wore on in Judge Clifford Shirley’s courtroom it seemed we might never get to the question of the day—would Mike Walli, Megan Rice and Greg Boertje-Obed continue to be held in Blount County Jail, or would Judge Shirley release them? Stay tuned…

As Judge Shirley began the proceedings, Francis Lloyd, counsel for Megan Rice, reported that hypothermia, possibly brought on by the failure to provide Megan with her medicine, might compromise her ability to participate in the hearing. Francis had already draped his raincoat over Megan. Court took a recess while officials scrambled to locate a blanket. In the end, Judge Shirley reappeared with a space heater to direct on Megan and a staff person found a sweater and blanket.

We began with the announcement that the government had submitted a new criminal complaint, charging a felony—that the defendants had, at a place within the special maritime or territory of the United States, namely the Y12 National Security Complex, did willfully and maliciously destroy or injure or attempt to destroy or injure a structure, conveyance, personal or real property. The new penalty is a $250,000 fine and not more than 5 years in prison; not more than 3 years supervised release; and a special assessment of $100. Continue reading

Preliminary Hearing — NOT

From: Ralph Hutchison

A Day in Court • Transform Now Plowshares Trial Set

* * *

Greg, Megan and Mike all appeared to be in good health and spirits as they came into Magistrate Judge G. Clifford Shirley’s courtroom in Knoxville, Tennessee, for what was supposed to be a preliminary hearing. Before the judge arrived, they spoke with their counsel, and we held up a copy of the newspaper’s bold headline: Y12 halts nuke operations. Greg saw it and smiled broadly; the lawyers for the others indicated they had made sure their clients knew.

When Judge Shirley came in, he informed the court that the government had chosen a different route than the preliminary hearing and was presenting a bill of information with the same charge as before—misdemeanor trespass. That meant we were starting over, sort of, and the judge went through the formalities of re-appointing attorneys, and we had a second initial appearance. It does appear Judge Shirley will be on the bench for the remainder of the proceedings.

After reviewing the information, the judge asked the defendants to enter pleas. Mike Walli spoke clearly, “Not guilty.” Megan Rice did the same, emphasizing the not. When asked for his plea, Greg said, “I plead justified because the building of nuclear weapons is a war crime.” The judge asked him to plead guilty or not guilty, and Greg responded, “I plead for the downtrodden around the world who suffer the consequences of our nuclear weapons.” The judge asked a third time for a formal plea and Greg said, “I plead for the children who need someone to intervene for them.” The judge said, “Fine, I will enter a plea of not guilty.” Continue reading

Arraignment proceedings: a second account

Knoxville Federal Courthouse, photo by Frank Kehren

Michael Walli, Megan Rice and Greg Boertje-Obed made their initial appearance before federal magistrate Bruce Guyton in Knoxville, Tennessee at 11:15am today—Monday, July 30, 2012. The proceedings were nearly over before Greg required the judge to read the charges against them—the trio were charged with criminal trespass, a misdemeanor, for their Transform Now Plowshares action on Saturday, July 28 at the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

In court, the defendants were calm and composed. They spoke clearly, answering the judge’s questions directly. It was a pro forma hearing until the judge asked them each if they had a chance to review the complaint against them.

“Yes,” answered Mike Walli, the first to be questioned. Do you have any questions, the judge asked. “I note the charge listed relates only to what I have done,” Mike said, “and does not include the illegal nuclear weapons production taking place at Y12.” Continue reading

Arraignment of Transform Now Plowshares

Knoxville Federal Courthouse, photo by Frank Kehren

Arraignment proceedings took place this morning in Knoxville Federal Court for plowshares activists Michael Walli, Megan Rice, and Greg Boertje-Obed. In a concerted effort all three declared that charges facing the Y-12 were not addressed.

“Blessed are the peacemakers!” said Erik Johnson of Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA), audibly, as they entered the courtroom. After more than 48 hours detention not one appeared shaken.

They currently face one charge of federal trespass which carries a potential sentence of not more than one year imprisonment and not more than one year of supervised release as well as a maximum fine of $100,000. Preliminary information had indicated that a second felony charge of vandalism would be brought. Additional charges are possible as the legal process unfolds. Continue reading

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