A Day in Court

The proceedings began with the bailiffs proclamation: "Oh yea, oh yea. God save the commonwealth and this honorable court." That's the point, I thought to myself.

The scene was a Norristown, Pennsylvania courtroom where, almost a decade earlier, the Plowshares Eight had been convicted for entering the General Electric complex in nearby King of Prussia on September 9, 1980, and hammering two nose cones for Mark 12A nuclear warheads--in faithfulness, the defendants said, to Isaiah's admonition to "beat swords into plowshares." This day, April 10, 1990, was to be the final sentencing after numerous appeals of the original trial verdict, which found all eight guilty of criminal conspiracy and burglary.

Daniel Berrigan, Philip Berrigan, Dean Hammer, Carl Rabat, Elmer Maas, Anne Montgomery, Molly Rush, and John Schuchardt had been given prison sentences ranging from one-and-a-half to 10 years, which were nullified during the course of years of appeals. Their convictions had been upheld, however; today new sentences would be imposed by Judge James E. Buckingham.

The small Montgomery County courthouse was packed with nearly 100 people -- mostly family, friends, and press -- and many more people waited outside. Ten years had passed, and lives had gone on. There had been other actions, new children and grandchildren, and dramatically changing world events that had, if anything, vindicated the prophetic witness at King of Prussia. A decade of anti-nuclear activity and the collapse of the Cold War framework had instilled a hope for peace. But as the Plowshares Eight pointed out, the weapons are still in place and the arms race continues to kill the poor.

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