An 82-year-old Jesuit priest from Tacoma expressed no regrets Monday as he and four other war protesters were given prison sentences ranging from two to 15 months for breaking into Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor to protest nuclear weapons kept there.
The Rev. Bill Bichsel was sentenced to three months in prison and six months of home detention by U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle at the federal courthouse in Tacoma.
“I’m so glad for the action we took,” Bichsel said. “I think the only law that we tried to carry in our own hands is God’s law.”
The five – including two Catholic priests and a nun – were convicted by a jury in December of using bolt cutters to cut through three chain-link fences to enter an area where nuclear warheads are stored on the naval base.
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Settle said the protesters could have been killed and caused anxious moments for Bangor security.
He called the protesters’ actions a “form of anarchy” that left unchecked would lead to a breakdown in society.
“Indeed, there is no indication of remorse” by any of the five, Settle said.
The sentences for the other four were:
• 15 months in prison for the Rev. Stephen Kelly, 62, a Jesuit priest from Oakland, Calif.
• 15 months in prison for Susan Crane, 67, a retired public schoolteacher from Baltimore.
• Six months in prison for Lynne Greenwald, 61, a social worker from Bremerton.
• Two months in prison and four months of home detention for Sister Anne Montgomery, 84, of Redwood City, Calif.
The defendants contended they weren’t guilty because U.S. nuclear weapons violate international laws, accords that include the United States. But Settle refused to allow the five to use that argument during the trial as motivation for breaking into the base.
Crane accused Settle during the sentencing of “willful blindness” and said she didn’t understand why treaties the United States is a part of couldn’t be talked about during the trial.
Settle said the protesters’ arguments were “not new and novel” and had been decided by higher courts.
Speakers at the sentencing included former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and retired Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit. They spoke in support of the five defendants for taking nonviolent action against nuclear weapons.
Kelly, like Bichsel, expressed no regrets.
“We went to the base to uphold a higher law,” Kelly said.
About 300 supporters – some with signs that included “War is not Christ’s way” – gathered outside U.S. District Court downtown before the sentencing hearing.
The five were convicted Dec. 13 of conspiracy, trespassing and destruction of government property. They faced up to 10 years in prison.
The defendants admitted they broke into the base around 2 a.m. on Nov. 2, 2009. Bichsel previously said the protesters were beyond the perimeter fence for about 41/2 hours before they cut through the final two fences and military personnel responded to an alarm.
Kelly and Crane received the longest sentences because they had the most extensive criminal histories. Both have several prior convictions for destroying government property at military installations across the country as a protest of U.S. military weapons.
Bichsel has spent about 20 months in federal prison for prior acts of trespass at Bangor and at a federal facility in Georgia.
Settle issued shorter prison sentences than the six to 30 months prosecutors recommended.
“They believe they’re above the law and above the democratic process,” assistant U.S. Attorney Arlen Storm said.
The judge praised Bichsel for caring for the needs of others in the community.
“It’s not easy to sit in judgment of people who have lived such sacrificial lives,” Settle said.
While supporters in the packed courtroom sang “rejoice in the Lord, always,” the five – most at their own request – were taken into immediate custody to the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac.
Bichsel hugged his supporters, including Theresa Power-Drutis of Tacoma, who had hoped Settle would let the five go free.
“My heart is broken,” Power-Drutis said.
Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647 steve.maynard@thenews tribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/street