A federal appeals court has ordered the immediate release of an 85-year-old nun and two fellow Catholic anti-nuclear proliferation activists who vandalized a uranium storage bunker, their attorney said Friday.
The order came a week after the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati overturned the 2013 sabotage convictions of Sister Megan Rice, 66-year-old Michael Walli, and 59-year-old Greg Boertje-Obed, and ordered resentencing on their remaining conviction for injuring government property. The activists have spent two years in prison, and the court said they likely already have served more time than they will receive for the lesser charge.
On Thursday, their attorneys petitioned the court for an emergency release, saying that resentencing would take weeks if normal court procedures were followed. Prosecutors on Friday afternoon responded that they would not oppose the release, if certain conditions were met.
After the close of business on Friday, attorney Bill Quigley said the court had ordered the activists' immediate release. He said he was working to get them out of prison and was hopeful they could be released overnight or on the weekend.
"We would expect the Bureau of Prisons to follow the order of the court and release them as soon as possible," he said.
Rice, Walli and Boertje-Obed are part of a loose network of activists opposed to the spread of nuclear weapons. To further their cause, in July 2012 they cut through several fences to reach the most secure area of the Y-12 complex. Before they were arrested, they spent two hours outside a bunker that stores much of the nation's bomb-grade uranium, hanging banners, praying and spray-painting slogans.
In the aftermath of the breach, federal officials implemented sweeping security changes, including a new defense security chief to oversee all of the National Nuclear Security Administration's sites.
Rice was originally sentenced to nearly three years and Walli and Boertje-Obed were each sentenced to just over five years. In overturning the sabotage conviction, the Appeals Court ruled that the trio's actions did not injure national security.
Boertje-Obed's wife, Michele Naar-Obed, said in a phone interview from her home in Duluth, Minnesota, that she hopes her husband is out of prison by Monday, which will be his 60th birthday.
Naar-Obed previously served three years in prison herself for anti-nuclear protests. She said that if their protests open people's minds to the possibility of life without nuclear weapons, then, "Yeah, it was worth it."