Nuns sentenced to prison for anti-war protest

Associated Press, July 25, 2003
JUDITH KOHLER, Associated Press Writer

Calling them “dangerously irresponsible,” a federal judge sentenced three nuns to at least 21/2 years in prison Friday for vandalizing a nuclear missile silo during an anti-war protest last fall.

Despite his strong words, U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn gave the women less than the six-year minimum called for under sentencing guidelines.

Jackie Hudson was sentenced to 21/2 years, Carol Gilbert to two years, nine months, and Ardeth Platte to three years, five months.

“We’re satisfied,” prosecutor Robert Brown said.

Hudson, 68, Gilbert, 55, and Platte, 66, were convicted in April of obstructing the national defense and damaging government property.

The Roman Catholic nuns cut a fence and walked onto a Minuteman III silo site last October, pounding the silo with hammers and painting a cross on it with their blood. Officials said they caused at least $1,000 in damage.

The nuns had until Aug. 25 to report to prison but chose to go immediately.

Some peace activists have said the felony convictions were harsh and intended to have a chilling effect on other protesters, but the prosecutor said the nuns were repeat offenders who deserved prison. He said Platte had been arrested at least 10 times at anti-war protests, Hudson five times and Gilbert at least 13 times.

“These ladies could not be deterred for the last 20 years. They will be deterred for the time the court sentences them,” Brown said.

On Friday, the defense asked the judge for leniency, saying even prosecution witnesses agreed the nuns did not harm the national defense.

Beforehand, the nuns defiantly told a crowd of 150 supporters outside the courthouse they were not afraid of prison.

“Whatever sentence I receive today will be joyfully accepted as an offering for peace and with God’s help it will not injure my spirit,” a choked-up Platte said.

As for vandalizing the silo, Hudson said: “When someone holds a gun to your head or someone else’s head do you not have a right and a duty to enter that arena and stop that crime?”

Many of those outside court waved anti-war banners, including one that read: “No Blood for Oil.”

The Roman Catholic nuns are longtime anti-war activists. Platte and Gilbert lived in a Baltimore activist community founded by the late peace activist Philip Berrigan. Hudson lived in a similar community in Poulsbo, Wash.

After their arrest, the women chose to stay in jail, refusing the government’s offer to release them on their own recognizance.

Hudson’s lawyer, Walter Gerash, insisted during the trial the nuns did nothing to prevent the missile from “doing its demonic damage.” He compared the women to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the American colonists who dumped tea into Boston Harbor.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday July 26, 2003.
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