Day Six, Part 1 • Mary Dennis Lentsch
Mary Dennis Lentsch appeared this morning before judge Bruce Guyton in federal court in Knoxville, Tennessee to be sentenced for her nonviolent civil resistance at the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in July of 2010. The courtroom was full of supporters as Mary Dennis was brought in in shackles; she has been in custody since mid-June in Ocilla, Georgia.
The Assistant District Attorney, Melissa Kirby, set the tone, telling the judge that Mary Dennis was “a little different” from the others who have been sentenced over the past ten days. “Her offenses are almost exclusively at this facility, at Y12,” she said; she’s had seven convictions at Y12, including a prior federal arrest in 2002. At that time she was sentenced to two months in a halfway house [served instead in federal prison] and one year of supervised release. It did not appear to serve a deterrent effect as she continues to go to Y12 to commit these offenses.”
Mary Dennis’ attorney, John Eldridge reminded the judge he had heard Mary Dennis testify as to her actins and her motivations. “No one can possibly question her sincerity,” he said. “We ask for a sentence of time served.”
Then Mary Dennis spoke. Despite the federal marshals efforts to constrain her to face only the judge, she turned to the court, “I bow to the sacred in everyone,” she said. “I bow to the sacred in the plants and animals. I bow to the sacred in all creation.”
“In order to protect all the sacred gifts of creation, I feel called to do whatever is necessary to abolish nuclear weapons. My years of nonviolent resistance and acts of conscience have their roots in my Christian baptismal promise to renounce and resist evil, and in the public witness of my religious vows as a Catholic sister.
“My heartfelt conviction for resisting nuclear weapons is reinforced by a passage from the Bible. In the Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 30 verse 19 we read: ‘…I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life that you and future generations may live.’
“It is a known fact that nuclear weapons are instruments of death and massive destruction. The explosion of a nuclear bomb gives off immense quantities of heat and energy, as well as powerful and prolonged radiation that cannot be contained in time and space. This violence of nuclear weapons has the potential to destroy all that is sacred—all living beings, as well as our ecosystems, and our planet.”
Mary Dennis noted that she was unable to present evidence in her trial—that the sign she carried which spoke of international law and the US Constitution was not provided in discovery, though other defendants’ signs were. “It was my hope and expectation that the judge and jury would weigh in the balance of justice the gravity of the United States violating international law and the Constitution of the United States, with my puny action of calling attention to these violations regarding the continued nuclear bomb production at Y-12,” she said.
Invoking the founder of the Presentation Sisters, Nano Nagle, and Jesus, and “many prophetic witnesses before me,” Mary Dennis said she accepted “the consequential suffering of my decision to follow my conscience.”
After thanking the people who had gathered in support of her, she said, “It is my prayerful hope that the nonviolent energy of each person in this room, and all people around the world, could one day soon, insure the sacred gift of life and existence for all in a nuclear-free future. We must abolish nuclear weapons!”
The first glimmer of hope came as the judge began his pre-sentencing litany, reviewing Mary Dennis’s history he said, “The defendant has had several prior arrests,” minimizing her record. Minutes later he handed down the sentence—time served, with no probation or supervised release and no fine.
Y12 Resisters’ Sentencing • Day Six, Part 2: Beth Rosdatter
To fully appreciate Beth Rosdatter’s sentencing hearing, one would have to have been present during the trial in May. Before the trial, Judge Bruce Guyton ruled a few things out of bounds—any discussion of nuclear policy, nuclear weapons, faith, motivation, good intent, and, mostly, anything that might evoke sympathy or understanding on the part of a juror. He was granting a prosecution request at the time, and the problem he ran into early on, with the first witness, was the prosecution asking about nuclear policy.
It wasn’t until later in the trial, when Beth took the stand, that the prosecutor asked her a direct question about her motive. She hesitated, then looked at the judge and said, “I think she just asked me a question you don’t want me to answer.” This precipitated a sidebar conversation with the lawyers, at the end of which the judge admonished all parties to be mindful of his ruling.
Eventually Beth and the others were found guilty of trespass for their July 2010 crossing of the boundary at the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and she remained free on recognizance bond until today, when she stood before the judge.
”This defendant,” said prosecutor Melissa Kirby, departing from her customary minimal report to the judge, “show a bit of defiance. In her sentencing memo she says the court’s sentence will have no deterrent effect, and during her testimony at trial she violated the court’s order and the court had to instruct her.” It was a stunning display of audacity, but it only lasted a moment.
Beth’s lawyer rose to explain, pointing out that the sentencing memo did not express particular defiance from Beth, but pointed out that for some protesters with deeply held beliefs, there is no deterrent effect possible. “Tax resisters,” said Wayne Scarborough, “believe it is their duty as citizens to resist paying taxes, and they will continue to resist no matter what the law says or what the IRS does.”
He went on to tell the judge that Beth requested she be shown no leniency not extended to her co-defendants, and no probation or supervised release. Then he pointed out that during the trial, the sidebar and admonishment was occasioned by the questioning of the prosecution, in violation of the order it had requested.
The judge had one question. “Ms. Rosdatter, if you are sentenced to a prison term, do you intend to enter custody today?” Beth answered, “Yes.” She was then called to the lectern for her elocution.
“I’ve been reading portions of the testimony of other defendants,” she said, “and they have spoken eloquently to many of the issues I would talk about—Bonnie talking about the justice system, Steve Baggarly speaking of the morality of nuclear weapons, and Brad explaining how the weapons actually make us all less safe.
“I just want to say the government says we threatened the security of the United States by crossing the line. That is a lie. They know it is a lie. The threat is not us—the threat to our security is the bombs; all we are doing is saying they are there. If we are a threat, we are a threat to the policy of hegemony. These bombs are illegal, and the government covers that up. The system protects the powerful at the expense of the rest of us, and that is unjust.”
The judge recessed the hearing to make arrangements for Beth’s custody and returned a few minutes later to hand down a sentence of one month imprisonment, no supervised release, and no fine. “You are immediately remanded to the custody of the Attorney General,” he said, and it was over.
The marshals allowed her a quick hug with her son, Arlo, 15 years old. “Quickly,” he said. “You are in custody.” And then they put the cuffs on and led her away.