WASHINGTON (CNS) — Patrick O’Neill, one of seven Kings Bay Plowshares defendants, received a 14-month sentence Oct. 16 for his conviction in October 2019 on three felony and one misdemeanor counts stemming from the activists’ 2018 break-in at a Georgia naval base and hammering at a Trident nuclear missile inside.
O’Neill will be on two years of supervised probation following the end of his prison term. He immediately filed an appeal of his sentence.
The day before, another defendant, Jesuit Father Steve Kelly, who had been in prison awaiting sentencing, received a 33-month term minus time served, plus three years of supervised probation for his role in the incident.
Both will be required to pay a share of the $33,503.51 pegged by the Navy as the damages wrought by their actions.
Although the convictions on charges of conspiracy, trespass and destruction and depredation of property took place almost exactly one year prior, the coronavirus pandemic forced shuffling of sentencing dates, with televised appearances by some people involved in the case.
Four other defendants — including Martha Hennessy, granddaughter of Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement — are expected to be sentenced in November. The seventh defendant, Elizabeth McAlister, a former nun, was sentenced in June to time served after spending 17 months in jail. She also received similar probation and restitution requirements.
At O’Neill’s sentencing, his uncle Denis O’Donnell, who served in Germany in the Army in the 1950s and later became a police officer, said he became a surrogate father for O’Neill and his younger brother, Timmy, after their father — a Navy veteran — died. “I think about them as my sons because of the time we spent together,” O’Donnell said.
Citing O’Neill’s inspiration from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., St. Teresa of Kolkata and Mohandas Gandhi, he said his nephew wanted to “help people in a different way. I think there are varying pathways … to help each other,” O’Donnell said. O’Neill and his wife, Mary, run a house for domestic violence victims in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“It doesn’t surprise me that Patrick follows the lives of the people he holds in high regard,” O’Donnell said via a courtroom video feed. “I don’t want to find fault with Patrick. I love him.”
Bernadette Naro, one of O’Neill’s daughters and a campus minister at Marist High School in Atlanta, testified she had been confronted by questions about the implications of her father’s actions.
“What about your granddaughter? What if you were pregnant? Why would he risk being apart from her?” Naro said, “I know what people who have been involved in similar actions. I know people risk their lives and their comfort on behalf of the war. I’ve heard it said that until people are willing to make similar sacrifices against war, we’re never going to see peace.”
One of O’Neill’s sons, Timothy Ryder O’Neill, 21, a student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, told the court, “My upbringing was far from conventional in any sense of the word.” Nonviolence was “at the forefront of our priorities,” he said, and “the more important thing in our family was how we treat each other and treat others around us.”
He cited his kid sister, 15-year-old Mary Eveiyn, who has Down syndrome, as justification for leniency. “My mother works doing home health and social work,” Timothy O’Neill said. “My father spends a lot of time and support and energy in support of our family and my little sister.”
The sentencing guidelines for O’Neill called for a sentence of at least 18 months. U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood, in the federal courthouse in Brunswick, Georgia, told O’Neill his sentence was shorter than Father Kelly’s because “your criminal history is not as storied as Father Kelly’s.” The priest was in jail prior to his sentencing due to a parole violation in Washington state.
O’Neill will serve his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution Butner in North Carolina, not far from the family home in Raleigh. In his presentencing statement, O’Neill said 824 inmates at the prison have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, and 26 inmates and one guard have died of it.