The outcome was never in doubt—the scales of justice were tipped against the defendants long before the trial began. But the prosecution had to work harder than they imagined, as the twelve Y12 Resisters mounted a vigorous defense, successfully putting US nuclear policy on trial at several points, and challenging plans for a new bomb plant in Tennessee.
In the end, the jury found them all guilty. Seven of the defendants refused to continue under the terms of their pre-trial supervised release; they were taken into custody at the close of the trial, joining Bill Bichsel who was already in custody from a Plowshares Action in Washington. We will post mailing addresses when it become clear where they are. All twelve of the defendants will be sentenced at a date to be determined.
The verdict came at the end of a long day in court; the proceedings began at 9:15a.m, but the day started a little earlier for some. In response to the court’s refusal to allow Mary Dennis Lentsch to submit as evidence the sign she carried over the line on July 5 (which pointed out that continued weapons production at Y12 violated international law, US Nonproliferation Treaty obligations and, by virtue of the Supremacy clause of the Constitution, US law as well), Mary Dennis, Ardeth Platte and Carol Gilbert arrived at the courthouse an hour before court and stood gagged before the front door for forty-five minutes. Behind them, David Dwyer held a sign that read simply: The Truth, The WHOLE TRUTH?
Brad Lyttle led off the testimony and began with his life story. Despite the judge’s repeated urgings that he move with haste to something “relevant,” Brad calmly spoke of his amazing life of resistance; of rooming with a Japanese American who had been interned in the second world war, of playing tennis with Enrico Fermi (a better physicist than tennis player, according to Brad), of going into medical equipment manufacturing with a veteran of the Danish resistance. From Gandhi, Brad said, he learned civil disobedience and the responsibility to oppose injustice. His trip around the world brought him to Verdun, where more than 2,000,000 died—his voice breaking he described a visit to the cemetery there for US war dead, row upon row of crosses, and the cemetery guard who said he was the first American visitor in more than a year. He told of anti-nuclear demonstrations, anti-Vietnam war demonstrations, walking from San Francisco to Moscow and leafletting the streets of Russia, Poland and Germany. He said his participation in a racially integrated march that passed through Albany, Georgia led to a two month stint in jail—but today the C B King federal courthouse is named after the African American lawyer who represented the Freedom Riders. “Our demonstration may have helped change things,” he noted.
Brad spoke of studying political science and attempted three times to get papers he wrote on the probability of a nuclear cataclysm; each time the papers were declared irrelevant by the judge. Still, Brad told the jury nuclear weapons were almost certain to be used, and used catastrophically. Finally the judge silenced Brad by eliminating his arguments. Do you have anything else you’d like to say, Mr. Lyttle? Brad answered: I have all kinds of things I’d like to say, but I can’t. I went to Afghanistan a month ago… The prosecution’s objection was sustained.
In cross-examination, the prosecutor managed to give Brad one more chance to talk about the danger of nuclear weapons. Attempting to get Brad to agree that Y12 needed tight security, Jeff Theodore asked Brad if the materials Y12 houses were dangerous. “That’s an understatement!” Brad declared. “They are catastrophicallly dangerous!” But, argued the prosecutor, they have to keep them secure. “Get rid of them!” Brad suggested, “then we’ll really be secure!” In his closing Brad said he had a responsibility as a citizen to bring the danger of nuclear weapons to the attention of all Americans. “They can destroy us totally at any moment,” he said. When he got to, “Society can be improved with certainty if all injustice is opposed calmly,” the judge shut sustained another objection. “Is there anything else, Mr. Lyttle?” asked Judge Guyton. “Why I can think of all kinds of things,” said Brad, relishing the thought. “I didn’t mean it that way,” Guyton said quickly. “Well, all right,” said Brad, and he stepped down.
Beth Rosdatter was next on the stand. Her attorney, Wayne Stanbaugh, presented her and she raised her hand for the oath. “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?” asked the court officer. “I promise I’ll tell nothing but the truth,” said Beth, “but I can’t swear it will be the whole truth.”
Then she told the jury her story and her goal as a philosophy and ethics instructor. “I think we’ve lost the ability to talk about things that really matter like the moral or political direction of our country,” she said.
In cross examining Beth, the prosecutor asked her if she taught Aquinas, which Beth noted she had used in her classes. Asked if Beth taught her students to break the law, she said, “No, but I do teach about necessity, the idea that if someone is strangling their wife, whether it is trespass or not to go in to stop him.” Asked if the protesters who did not get arrested were ineffective, Beth said, “It’s part of what citizen’s do, but not because of the first amendment but the sixth, the citizens’ duty when the government is breaking the law.
With that, the judge admonished all parties about violating his order. The prosecutor then began questioning Beth about whether or not she could pick which laws she wanted to follow. “No,” Beth said. “This law did not apply?” asked the prosecutor. Beth looked at the judge, aware of his admonishment. “You’re asking me a question you don’t want me to answer,” she said. Seconds later she was off the stand.
Steve Baggarly followed; he spoke of 25 years of service as a Catholic Worker and his two boys. He launched into two brief stories and began telling the story of a hibakusha (survivor of the atomic bombings). As the first sentence ended, the prosecutor was on his feet. “Objection,” he said and then, revealing his secret gift of clairvoyance, he said, “I believe I can see where this is going.” The judge decided to defer his ruling, and Steve continued, describing the inferno of Hiroshima—and the objection was sustained.
Steve said he might proffer the stories and the judge said he could accept them as a proposed exhibit, disallowed. “Doesn’t mean anyone would get to read them?” asked Steve. “Not likely,” said the judge. Steve went on to note Y12’s bomb would turn the world to hell, noting the root word of terror is the same as deterrence. “We keep fear alive as long as we keep nuclear weapons.” Steve urged people to read Martin Luther King, Jr and Gandhi, and then he recounted Jesus’ unlawful acts—healing a man on the Sabbath—“and they went out immediately to counsel to put him to death.”
“The no trespass law at Y12 is one of a web of laws used to protect Weapons of Mass Destruction,” Steve said. “The laws and the courts defend weapons for doomsday. The law is in the service of death. My action at Y12 was to willfully do good in the service of life.
And the defense rested. On cross examination, the prosecutor attempted to spar with Steve, asking him if he planned to go to China to protest their nuclear weapons. “Disarmament begins at home,” noted Steve. Asked if it was unlikely that nuclear weapons would be abolished Steve said, “People in Egypt didn’t think it was likely they would overthrow the leadership of their country.”
Dennis DuVall was last on the stand, and Robert Kurtz put him through the paces. Prompted by his lawyer’s questions Dennis told of traveling to New York for the Nonproliferation Review and hearing nations say they wanted to limit nuclear weapons but said they couldn’t do it.
Unlike Mary Dennis, Dennis’ sign was returned to him and put into evidence. The sign has a photo of Martin Luther King, Jr and the words Abolish Nuclear Weapons Now. Dennis then went on to speak of his respect for King as one of the reasons he went onto Y12 property.
Closing arguments started with the government’s display of disjointed reasoning, “When it comes to nuclear weapons, it doesn’t matter which side of the fence you are on—“ said Melissa Milliken at one point.
Francis Lloyd made initial closing argument for the defendants. “History is not begin famous,” said Lloyd, “You are participating in history right now. History is made moment to moment.”
He argued the legal case for willful and closed with a graphic description of Yosemite Sam who, enraged by a fly in his house, pulls his pistols and shoots the house down.
Mike Whalen quoted Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech about seeing the promised land. Did Bix think crossing the line would end nuclear weapons? No, but it’s a start. He recited the facts about the cost of the new Oak Ridge bomb plant and the line of contractors at the federal trough. “Bix saw it, “ Mike said. “He said, ‘Enough!’”
Brad Lyttle closing was concise—the danger is imminent and total, so demonstration is warranted.
John Eldridge began his closing and ended it with a poem, “One woman up, with dawn in her eyes, multiplies.” If you’ve been awakened, he said, even a little bit, by her honesty, go to your jury room and find her not guilty.
Erik Lutton laid out a legal argument about evidence on the fence surrounding Y12, and Brad Henry read a passage from a Martin Luther King sermon: “I come to this magnificent house because of my conscience,” and noted that King called for a revolution of values which will say ‘War is not just.’” My client and the others were not doing this for themselves, he said, his voice dropping. They did it for me. And for you. And for humankind. Jackie Hudson’s action, said Brad, was the ultimate expression of her wisdom, her justice, and her love.
Wayne Stanbaugh chided the government for suggesting the protesters were playing a game. “This is no game. This is serious. Look at these defendants. This is about their lives, and they took it very seriously, and they exercised their civic duty to be at Y12 and to do what they did.”
Steve Baggarly asked what it means to be human in a world of extreme poverty where the military spends more than $3 million per minute. “Every minute is important,” Steve said, “every minute we move toward or away from the kingdom of God.” It is time to put up the sword and share bread,” Steve concluded.
Robert Kurtz asked the jury to use its common sense and invoked Martin Luther King, Jr. who acted intentionally, he said, but not with bad purpose. “I work up this morning and looked in the mirror,” said Robert, “and I remembered something Mary Dennis had said. ‘I put my life on the line,’ she said. I have to admire that.”
And it was over. The prosecutor attempted to cast aspersions on witnesses which did not testify, suggesting they were hiding. And she attempted to lump them with terrorists—“What territory are we getting into here?” she asked, “Do you believe there are people out there who want to harm America? How do you know their intentions?”
The jury was instructed, deliberated a little more than an hour, and returned a verdict of guilty for each of the twelve defendants. Seven of them: Bonnie Urfer, Ardeth Platte, Mike Walli, Carol Gilbert, Steve Baggarly, Jackie Hudson, and Jean Gump declared they had no intention of continuing to accept supervised release pending a sentencing hearing. They asked to report on Thursday morning but were taken into custody by the federal marshals.
Sentencing was not scheduled.
Outside the courthouse that evening, a circle of voices raised in song—Hold on, Bill Bichsel, hold on—keep your eyes on the prize; hold on.