In an amazing turn of events, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals this evening ordered the immediate release of Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed, the Transform Now Plowshares activists who were serving time in federal prison for their action at the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, TN to protest plans for a new multibillion dollar nuclear bomb plant there.
Things unfolded rapidly this afternoon.
At 4:00pm word came from Bill Quigley, attorney for MGM, that the government had filed a notice that it would not oppose the release of Greg, Michael and Megan pending resentencing. The government’s notice was interesting—it included notice to the court that, when resentencing did happen, the government would not be seeking terms of imprisonment greater than the time already served. But, the prosecutor said, the court could not release the defendants unless it determined their were “extraordinary circumstances.” The government’s brief went on to note the issues cited by the defendants did not constitute ordinary circumstances. There was a way, though, the government pointed out, under a different statute, and then noted that another court had ruled keeping a defendant unjustly incarcerated beyond the time they would be expected to serve would be an extraordinary circumstance. “We defer to the Sixth Circuit” said the government.
Then, just after 7:00pm this evening, the Sixth Circuit ordered the immediate release of Megan, Greg and Michael on their own recognizance. The order is not available at this time, but the word from Quigley is reliable. In a delightful serendipity, Monday is Greg Boertje-Obed’s birthday—with any luck, he will be home to celebrate it with his family!
Everyone seemed to have the same question following the news that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals had thrown out the sabotage charge against Michael Walli, Megan Rice and Greg Boertje-Obed and vacated the sentences on both the sabotage and the depredation charges. The court noted if the three had been sentenced only on the depredation charge, according to the sentencing guidelines, they would likely have received shorter sentences and would have already served their full time. So the question of the day: When are they getting out?
A fair question—they now are being held in federal prison with no sentence at all.
Within days of the Sixth Circuit’s ruling, Judge Amul Thapar, who handled the original case, convened a conference call with the lawyers from both sides. He apparently told them he had not yet been assigned the case, but he wanted to set a schedule in case he was. The result was a July 8 date set for resentencing. (The Court’s decision to throw out the sabotage charge and vacate the sentences could be appealed by the prosecutor, a decision we are told would be made not in Knoxville, but in Washington; the feds have two weeks to file a notice of appeal, then as much as 90 days to actually file the appeal, after which the defense gets time to respond, and the feds get more time for a final response—you can see how this would drag out with Greg, Megan and Michael still in prison.
But the case resides still in the Sixth Circuit (Thapar, who is a federal judge in Lexington, KY, originally drew the case because the Knoxville court had a vacancy on the bench; the judge who had been assigned the case had retired; Thapar drew the reassignment. That empty seat in Knoxville has since been filled, so it is not absolutely certain that the case would be remanded to Thapar for re-sentencing.) So, long story short, attorneys for MGM filed a motion with the Sixth Circuit on Thursday, May 15, asking for immediate release.
The Sixth Circuit wasted no time. Within hours, it issued an order requiring the government to respond to the motion for immediate release by noon on Monday, May 18.
That is where things stand at this moment.
Here is a copy of the Defense Motion for Immediate Release:Def Motion for Immediate Release 5-14-15
Appeals court overturns sabotage convictions of Transform Now Plowshares activists, vacates sentences of Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Gregory Boertje-Obed on all charges and remands for resentencing.
Court suggests decision may lead to release of Rice, Boertje-Obed and Walli
8 May 2015
for immediate release
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a decision in favor of the Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed who were convicted in 2013 of sabotage for their July 28, 2012 Transform Now Plowshares protest of nuclear weapons production at the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
“The purpose of the action of Michael, Megan and Greg was to call attention to the ongoing production of thermonuclear weapons components at the bomb plant in Oak Ridge and, more specifically, to oppose plans to build a new, multi-billion dollar bomb plant—the Uranium Processing Facility—at Y12,” said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance. “They were nonviolent protestors in the tradition of Gandhi, not saboteurs. We are pleased the Sixth Circuit appreciated the difference.”
The court ruled 2-1 in a decision handed down on May 8, 2015, that the government failed to prove the Transform Now Plowshares activists intended to “injure the national defense,” a requirement for conviction under the sabotage act. Disposing of the government’ arguments one by one, the court finally states simply: “The defendants’ convictions under §2155(a) must be reversed.”
The circuit court had the option of merely reversing the sabotage conviction but letting the defendants’ sentences stand on the other charge for which they were convicted—depredation of government property. Noting the lesser charge would have resulted in lesser sentences—the men received 62 month sentences and Megan Rice a sentence of 35 months—under federal sentencing guidelines (“it appears that the guidelines ranges for their § 1361 convictions on remand will be substantially less than their time already served in federal custody.“), the court chose to vacate all sentences and remand the their cases for resentencing on the remaining depredation count.
Michael Walli is currently serving his sentence at McKean federal prison in Bradford, PA; Greg Boertje-Obed is in Leavenworth, KS; Megan Rice is in federal prison in Brooklyn, NY. Her release date is currently in mid-November, 2015.
At this time, it is not clear when resentencing will take place.
for more information
Ralph Hutchison 865 776 5050
Paul Magno 202 321 6650