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News ::
3 nuns guilty in silo protest (english)
09 Apr 2003
Women likely face terms of 5-8 years
3 nuns guilty in silo protest
Women likely face terms of 5-8 years
By Mike McPhee and Kieran Nicholson
Denver Post Staff Writers

Tuesday, April 08, 2003 - A federal jury convicted three Roman Catholic nuns Monday of obstructing national defense and damaging government property after they cut through fences and sprayed their own blood on a Minuteman III missile silo last year.

While the Dominican sisters face up to 30 years in prison, federal prosecutors said they expect terms closer to five to eight years. Sentencing is scheduled for July 25 in U.S. District Court in Denver.

"We knew the forces, the powers were against us," Sister Ardeth Platte, 66, said in an interview later Monday from jail. "We weren't surprised by the verdicts.

"We got back to the jail and turned on the television, which had all the pictures of children being killed in Iraq. This is all wrong. You can't drop a bomb on a city and kill children. This is exactly our defense. Those missiles are on high alert."

Sister Platte said she does not expect U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn will show lenience at the sentencing.

Having already spent six months behind bars, Sister Platte said "it's really, really hard. It's sacred time, but difficult sacred time."

She said the three are responding to thousands of letters and are trying to "motivate people to get out into the streets, to continue our ongoing civil disobedience."

The pronouncement of the guilty verdict electrified the courtroom.

"This is a kangaroo court," shouted Susan Crane, a supporter of the nuns who quilted during last week's trial. "Shame on this court."

Two U.S. marshals hauled her out of the courtroom on orders from the judge.

Sister Platte, a former councilwoman and mayor pro-tem of Saginaw, Mich.; Sister Carol Gilbert, 55, of Baltimore; and Sister Jackie Marie Hudson, 68, of Bremerton, Wash., stood in their orange jail jumpsuits and began singing "Rejoice in the Lord above, again I say rejoice."

Sister Platte faced the jury and made the sign of the cross. She did again to the judge, to the prosecutor and to the approximately 40 spectators who packed the gallery.

Sister Gilbert shouted to the jury, "We will not be found guilty under God's law."

Jury forewoman Terrah McNellis, 25, of Denver, said the six-man, six-woman jury followed the law and not its collective heart.

"We all agree with their politics," McNellis said. "Nobody in the U.S. wants nuclear weapons, but you have to demonstrate lawfully."

The nuns were charged after entering the grounds of the N-8 Minuteman III missile silo northeast of Greeley early Oct. 6. They cut two gate chains and a fence, then symbolically tapped hammers on the rusted railroad tracks used to transport the missile. They also sprayed six crosses on the 110-ton concrete silo dome with their own blood.

Military riflemen arrived an hour after the alarm went off, training automatic weapons on the nuns, who were singing and praying. A military Humvee crashed through the fence when the nuns didn't obey an officer's orders, which they said they couldn't hear.

In court Monday, defense attorney Walter Gerash attempted to stop the reading of the verdicts by seeking a mistrial. He said McNellis had been seen in the hallway away from the rest of the jury during deliberations. Judge Blackburn refused to stop the proceedings and ordered Gerash to file a written motion within five days.

"Free speech is the first casualty of war. I'm bitterly disappointed with the people running this court," said Gerash, who clashed several times with Blackburn during the trial. "We had two Air Force colonels testify that the nuns never interfered with national defense or the operation of the Minuteman III missile."

U.S. Attorney John Suthers said he was pleased with the verdict.

"In the United States, you have the right to protest government policy in a variety of ways. But if you violate the laws, you'll face the consequences. We will continue to prosecute all acts of civil disobedience."

Near the end of deliberations, the jury asked the court to clarify whether the nuns were charged with "sabotage." Blackburn said they were not.

After they were charged in October, the nuns refused the government's offer to be released under a personal recognizance bond, so they remained in custody. On Monday, after the verdict was read, they again refused another offer to be released on bond. They are being held in the Clear Creek County Jail in Georgetown because the federal prison in Jefferson County has no facilities for women.

Lynn Butler, pastor of the United Church of Idaho Springs, called the verdicts "a travesty of justice. The sisters did not endanger the national defense. Their entire act was symbolic."
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