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Nun, activists to be sentenced for break-in at nuclear facility

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[February 18, 2014]  By Melodi Erdogan

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters)  An elderly nun and two peace activists are scheduled to be sentenced in federal court on Tuesday for breaking into a Tennessee defense facility where enriched uranium for nuclear bombs is stored.

Sister Megan Rice, Michael Walli, and Greg Boertje-Obed have admitted to cutting fences and making their way across the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in July 2012, embarrassing U.S. officials and prompting security changes.

Their sentencing hearing had started on January 28 but was delayed by a snowstorm. At that hearing, U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar in Knoxville ordered the protesters to pay $52,953 to cover repairs to the nuclear facility.

Rice and the others also admitted spray painting peace slogans and hammering on exterior walls of the facility. When a guard confronted them, they offered him food and began singing.

The three were convicted by a federal jury last May of damaging national defense premises under the sabotage act, which carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years, and of causing more than $1,000 of damage to U.S. government property.

Federal sentencing guidelines call for Rice, 84, to receive up to a little more than seven years in prison; Walli, 65, more than nine years; and Boertje-Obed, 58, more than eight years. The defendants have been in custody since their convictions.

Prosecutors have asked that the defendants receive sentences in line with federal guidelines. Defense attorneys have asked for lesser sentences, arguing that the three were "completely nonviolent" when they were arrested.

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The three activists have received more than 2,000 cards and letters of support from around the world.

Prosecutors contended the break-in at Y-12, the primary U.S. site for processing and storage of enriched uranium, disrupted operations, endangered U.S. national security, and caused physical damage.

(Reporting by Melodi Erdogan and Mary Wisniewski; editing by Toni Reinhold)

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