Y12 Resisters’ Sentencing Begins • This report covers the sentencing hearings of Jean Gump, Bill Bichsel, Bonnie Urfer, Carol Gilbert and Ardeth Platte
MONDAY morning, September 12, 2011 • Jean Gump
Jean Gump was the first of the July 2010 Y12 Resisters to be sentenced in federal court in Knoxville. Jean was not present, but was represented by Francis Lloyd. After hearing from the prosecution, which requested a four month prison term to be followed by five years supervised probation, judge Bruce Guyton sentenced Jean to time served and ordered to pay a fine of $500 (along with a “special fee” of $25).
The prosecution sought to twist Jean’s absence into some kind of defiance of the court: “She shows her remorse and lack of contrition by her absence,” and asserted that her actions at Y12 put the safety of many people at risk as well as threatened our national security. The prosecutor berated Jean for traveling to Europe while awaiting trial but then being unable to attend court for her sentencing. Finally, she derided Jean’s “presumptuous” attempt to “create her own sentence,” by going to jail for a month. The government asked the judge to sentence Jean to four months in prison and five years’ supervised release.
Francis Lloyd was masterful in refuting the ludicrous assertions of the prosecution—including that Jean should be held accountable for the actions of supporters, among whom were stilt-walking clowns in the courtyard of the courthouse complex. At that one, even the judge rolled his eyes, saying, “I don’t recall Ms. Gump being disruptive during the proceedings. In fact, I don’t believe she even testified.” Francis, after calling for calm to prevail in the courtroom, noted that Jean was never charged, tried or found guilty of placing anyone at risk or of threatening the security of the nation. “She was charged with a Class A misdemeanor for trespass,” he said, “and that’s all she should be sentenced for.”
Lloyd pointed out that if the court agreed with the government that Jean’s sentence should be made harsher because she sought and gained the court’s permission to be absent (a fairly common occurrence for a Class A Misdemeanor), no defendant could ever invoke that rule without fear. He also noted that, although Jean did seek permission to visit her daughter in Prague after she received a free plane ticket, she never made the trip. Oops! A little prosecutorial blunder there… Francis also pointed out that, rather than create her own sentence, Jean turned herself over to the authority of the court, went where the court instructed and complied with all obligations imposed on her, not to “a room at the Hilton.”
Francis called on the judge to set aside the hysteria of the prosecutor, take into account the nonviolent, nondestructive, cooperative nature of the action Jean took, and disregard the prosecution’s assertion that Jean was “part and parcel” of the rabble outside the courtroom. “Why, her picture was among those on the flyer they were handing out,” the prosecutor said, “and she may have been among those who sang in the courtroom when one of the defendants was brought in each morning.” Francis said, “Your honor, if my client committed any contumacious conduct, the government has the option of prosecuting her for it. Absent that, the government relies on completely unproved conduct by whatever parties…”
When the prosecution launched into it again the judge interrupted: “We’ve established she was a defendant in the case.” And then he handed down the sentence.
The judge declined to place Jean on probation, noted that she had served nearly a month in jail, and gave her time served. (Jean entered custody following the trial by refusing the comply with the terms of her supervised release; after a month in custody, she signed bond papers and was released on recognizance.)
Jean’s Pre-Sentencing Report rated her at 0-6 months; she had no points, and her last prior arrest was 1986, so she was rather uniquely situated among the eleven defendants awaiting sentencing. PSR recommendations for other defendants have varied widely, with some reporting a range of 1-7 months and others 6-12 or 2-8. There appear to be inconsistencies in applying the guidelines for tabulating the points, so we are really looking at a case-by-case situation rather than using one case to predict the future
MONDAY AFTERNOON • Bix
Father Bill Bichsel (Bix) was sentenced to three months in prison by federal magistrate judge Bruce Guyton in East Tennessee District Court in Knoxville, Tennessee. (He will return to Tacoma and self-report when told). No fine was assessed, and no probation. While Bix had more points and recent arrests than Jean Gump, the prosecution once again asked for 4 months in prison and 5 years probation. Bix’s presentencing investigation recommended a 1-7 month sentence. The court believes Bix will be on supervised release from his Kitsap conviction when his prison sentence for the Y12 action is served. The prosecution made no mention of remorse or apology from Bix.
The prosecution started with a rather whiny complaint that Mike Whalen’s motion had drawn a parallel between the US and brutal Arab governments; Whalen pointed out that what he really said was in light of the US approval of the popular uprisings against brutal governments in the Arab spring, it seem the greatest democracy on the earth could tolerate nonviolent dissent from the likes of Bix.
Mike Whalen did an excellent job representing Bix, and Bix made a pitch perfect statement to the court (see below). Mike also presented the petition signed by more than 670 people to the judge. Mike reference the new, $7.5 bomb plant proposed for Oak Ridge and said the effort of Bix and his fellow defendants to draw attention to it was an appropriate motivation. “Bix stands by his convictions,” Mike said, not apparently intending a pun, “and the court should let him go back to his work rather than jail.”
Then Bix made his statement:
“Judge, I come here with grave misgivings about the way we as a nation are headed. He thanked Erik and Libby Johnson for their hospitality and praised the OREPA community and talked about the sermon he heard John Gill preach at Church of the Savior on Sunday. “He spoke about September 11,” Bix said, “and about the power of intention. An intention to destroy or damage can reverberate throughout the country in a devastating way. So we have to think, personally and nationally, about where we are going.”
Bix spoke of Martin Luther King, Jr. “We are called to justice, judge,” he said. “All of us. You are, judge, we all are.” He said that he approached the court with MLK’s hope of a moral universe bending toward justice. “It’s important to live intentionally,” Bix said, with commitment, “throughout life, apologizing if necessary. It makes a difference in this life what we do.” He then delivered a lengthy quote from King’s Nobel acceptance speech: “I have an abiding faith in America,”
King said, “and an audacious faith in the future of humankind. I refuse to accept…” and he read on and on until he reached the climax. “Unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
“When we threaten other nations with nuclear weapons,” Bix said, “We can hardly say we are bent on peace, sisterhood and brotherhood. Nagasaki and Hiroshima have shown us the terrible destructive power of these bombs. We can do something as a nation instead of using our power to show Afghans around, we can share with one another, enter into a dialogue.
“Myself, in this court of justice, I want today to recommit myself to justice, to nonviolence, to the love of Jesus, to work with others of different beliefs. I want to commit myself in conjunction with Jackie Hudson, my co-defendant who died a short while ago, she is also a very moving spirit. I do so in the presence of Sue Ablao.
“I recommit myself in the spirit of Gandhi, of Martin Luther King, Jr, of Oscar Romero. I stand hoping to have the strength to carry out this commitment, even to death, in this courtroom of justice.”
After denouncing Bonnie Urfer as a “prolific criminal,” Magistrate Judge Bruce Guyton handed down the maximum sentence allowed under federal sentencing guidelines—eight months in prison—in federal court in Knoxville, Tennessee. Urfer’s crime was a Class A Misdemeanor Trespass—she crossed on to the property of the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in July 2010 to protest the continuing production of thermonuclear weapons of mass destruction at Y12.
Unlike the sentencing hearings of Bill Bichsel and Jean Gump on Monday, the prosecutor made no recommendation to the judge, apparently content to let Bonnie’s time served stand as a sentence; the sentencing guidelines derived from Bonnie’s “criminal” history established a sentencing range of 2-8 months.
The only moment of levity in the proceedings came when Bonnie rose for her elocution. “Raise your right hand,” the court officer said, preparing to swear Bonnie in. Bonnie failed to comply, her hands shackled to the chain around her waist.
Bonnie eloquently spoke about the conditions she found in prison, telling the judge, “We need people in jail to tell the truth,” and cited conditions of refusal to provide medical care, the exorbitant expenses for phone calls and commissary, and the unhealthy diet provided inmates. “Do I protest the crimes taking place in the jail,” she asked, “or the crimes outside the jail?”
She told the judge she disagreed with his ruling during the trial that nuclear weapons pose no imminent harm. “I have met people in jail who have lost family members and suffered illness due to the work they did at Y12. The government will pay them $150,000 for a life, if they can prove their sickness came from Y12. How many deaths will it take to convince the court that harm is imminent? How many deaths will it take for the court to name it a crime? For me, it takes one.”
Bonnie ended her elocution with a promise. “If I’m returned to jail, I will work to expose more crimes,” she said. “If I’m set free, I’ll work to expose more crimes. It’s your decision.”
After Bonnie’s lawyer filed the latest copy of the petition calling for the release of the Y12 Resisters, now with 870 signatures, the judge handed down the sentence. “The court finds you are a prolific criminal,” he said, noting her more than 50 convictions for trespass on federal property and other arrests of unknown disposition. “You are not deterred by sentences, and you have regularly informed courts that you will not comply with terms of supervised release and your actions have validated that promise. You most likely will not stop. So the only way to insure you will not continue this behavior that has become your routine, if you will, is to separate you from the community.” He then sentenced Bonnie to eight months, with credit for time served (4 months and 3 days), no probation, and no fine. The sentence was to serve as an adequate deterrence and a just punishment, Guyton said.
DAY THREE • 16 September 2011 • Part I, Carol Gilbert
Carol Gilbert, arrested at the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in July 2010 and convicted in May 2011 on a misdemeanor trespass charge, appeared before Judge Bruce Guyton for sentencing on Friday, September 16, 2011. Carol’s pre-sentencing investigation determined her sentencing range—points for prior offenses, added to points for the current offense—at 1-7 months.
Assistant District Attorney Melissa Kirby announced the government had no objections to the pre-sentencing report and sought a “just and fair sentence,” noting Carol had already served four months.
In her elocution, delivered just before the judge handed down his sentence, Carol said, “We do not choose jail. We do choose nonviolent direct action. We do choose to try to uphold Article 6 of the United States Constitution which was not allowed in this courtroom. We do choose life over death. But we do not choose jail.”
Carol declared that Oak Ridge can not continue to refurbish and upgrade nuclear warheads and, at the same time, adhere to humanitarian law and the laws of war. She spoke of women she met in jail who had horror stories to tell of the damage done to their families, health, and the environment by the work at Y12.
Drawing a distinction between civil disobedience, which breaks a specific law to accomplish a greater good, and civil resistance, which acts to uphold a law based on the citizen responsibilities established at Nuremberg to resist government crimes. Carol described her presence in the courtroom, along with her co-defendants, as drops of water—drops of water that, over time, wear away the stone.
Carol closed her statement with a remembrance of Jackie Hudson, to which the gathered audience responded, “Presente!”
The judge then sentenced Carol to time served, imposed no fine or probation.
DAY THREE • Part II, Ardeth Platte
It was the same and it wasn’t. Ardeth arrived in court four hours after Carol Gilbert to face sentencing for the same civil resistance act—trespass at the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in July 2010 protesting the ongoing production of nuclear weapons components and the plan to build a new bomb production plant at Y12.
The prosecutor stood and reminded the judge that Ardeth had already served four months and asked for a sentence that would deter her specifically and others generally—the same language we have heard for each defendant.
The judge recited Ardeth’s points (history and offense) and status (Cateogry 2) which placed her in the 1-7 months range. Ardeth’s lawyer agreed they had no objection to the presentencing report.
And then it was Ardeth’s turn, and she addressed the court for her elocution, beginning with a blessing of peace on the judge, the judge’s staff, the prosecutors, the marshals, the audience—“everyone who has brought us to this place today.” Then she told the judge she would be sharing her history with him so he would understand a little of who she is. Her statement, “I Refuse to Be Silent,” began by calling Jackie Hudson to the gathering, and moved to reminding the judge that she came to court expecting justice, expecting law-breakers to be prosecuted, expecting killing and threats to kill to be brought to trial. She noted the prosecutors instead chose to prosecute the Y12 Thirteen, limiting their testimony at trial, and ignoring law and treaties.
“Nuclear weapons are the taproot of violence,” Ardeth said, “and they must be abolished. So I refuse to be silent.” Aligning herself with her community and her church, Nobel laureates and legal experts, the World Court and the world community, she said “We each in our own way refuse to be silent.” She described her education in the church where “the words of Jesus took root in me,” and her exposure to racism, sexism and class-ism. The movements to address those issues taught her “the way to bring about systemic change through legal, political, and direct action.” She spoke of anti-war actions and efforts to declare Michigan a Nuclear Free Zone at the ballot.
“During the 1980s and 1990s, under the tutelage of lawyers, we learned the laws of the United States applicable to nuclear weapons, war, and our own nonviolent actions,” Ardeth said, “and our duty and responsibility to stop them.”
“Nuclear weapons inflict indiscriminate and uncontrollable mass destruction, violate fundamental rules and principles of humanitarian law, and threaten the existence of life itself.” She spoke of the specific work at Y12, refurbishing the W76 warhead, as breaches of Article 6 of the Nonproliferation Treaty.
“So I ask you,” she said, “Is it our democratic right to stop wrong-doing? Is it legal to defy treaties?…My commitment has been to put my mind, body, spirit and voice on the line to stop war, weapons and killing.”
“You may wonder why I’m taking the time to add this to my record,” said Ardeth. “I have two reasons: first to let you know my commitment and my passio; second, with hope to invite you and all who are part of the court to be agents for change in this key time of history as were the courts in the abolition of slavery, voting rights for women, stopping child labor, civil rights, unionization, and a multitude of other laws protecting air, land and water… Join the movement to stop the killing.”
Ardeth concluding by invoking Jackie Hudson’s mantra, urging the court to “take a step outside your comfort zone.”
The judge listened intently to the entire elocution and then handed down his sentence: time served, no fine, no probation, and a $25 special fee to be paid immediately.
As Ardeth was taken away for processing, one of the marshals came over with her hand extended. “This is Sister Carol’s watch,” she said. “She left it here in May and told us we could give it away. But we aren’t allowed to do that; we would just have to throw it out. So I decided to keep it for her.” She then told us to expect them to be released around 6:00pm, and we adjourned for the afternoon to see Bix off to the airport and reconvene at the release.