April 14, 2021 — After more than three years in prison, Father Steve Kelly, SJ, walked out of a federal courthouse yesterday to a crowd of 50 supporters. He then got on his knees and hung his head while a prayer of blessing was read. Fr. Kelly, 72, is a member of the nonviolent civil disobedience group that is known as the Kings Bay Plowshares 7.
In a brief hearing on April 13 in federal court in Tacoma, Washington, Fr. Kelly was sentenced to time served for violating conditions of his supervised release for a 2017 trespass conviction at the Kitsap-Bangor Trident nuclear submarine base in Washington. As of yesterday, he had served the maximum six-month prison sentence for the original charge and was unconditionally released from custody.
By the time of Fr. Kelly’s arrest in April 2018 at the Navy’s other Trident base at Kings Bay, Georgia, a bench warrant had already been issued for his arrest for violating the terms of his supervised release by not reporting to the federal probation office in Washington state. Entry onto another military installation and the ensuing federal charges were additional violations addressed at yesterday’s hearing.
Fr. Kelly remained in jail in Georgia from the time of his arrest through trial in October 2019 and his sentencing in October 2020 for a total of 33 months in prison plus restitution and three years of supervised release. With credit for time served, he’d essentially completed the custodial sentence but remained in federal custody pending yesterday’s hearing. U.S. marshals took him from Georgia in mid-December to bring him to Washington state, a journey that took over three and a half months with stays at three more private prisons and jails along the way in Florida, Oklahoma and Nevada.
Addressing the court yesterday before being sentenced, Fr. Kelly recounted the circumstances of his arrest and trial in 2017. He and six others had crossed the line during a peaceful protest at the Kitsap Bangor base. At their bench trial before Magistrate Judge Christel that September, they stipulated to all the facts, spoke their conscience and were found guilty of trespass.
“This is the way to love everyone in this courtroom. This is the way to love our fellow human beings, is that I had to take a stand against the nuclear weapons,” Fr. Kelly said yesterday.
“And of course what happened in Georgia … was a continuation of my acting in conscience. I think that it’s probably best said that while there are nuclear weapons out there, my conscience will probably be very consistent about this. I hope that helps. Thank you.”
Magistrate Judge David Christel responded that he recalled the case and told Fr. Kelly, “I thought throughout that matter that you and the other defendants were very principled and very direct and honest. I always respected that and I still do.”
With that, Judge Christel revoked Fr. Kelly’s probation, sentenced him to time served and ordered his release with no supervision to follow in this case. Fr. Kelly was, however, reminded that the supervision imposed by the southern district of Georgia is still in effect, and that court has required him to report to the Georgia probation office within 72 hours of his release from prison.
Soon after, Fr. Kelly and his attorney walked out of the courthouse to join a circle of friends and supporters who had been praying, singing and holding signs and banners in front of the courthouse. [Source: Nuke Resister]