Kings Bay Plowshares in court for arraignment, bond hearing

by Patrick O’Neill, Kings Bay Plowshares

At a May 17 bond hearing in United States District Court in Brunswick, Georgia, U.S. Attorney Karl Knoche told U.S. Magistrate Stan Baker that the government recommended that the seven Kings Bay Plowshares activists be held without bond pending their federal trial for conspiracy, destruction of property on a Naval Station, depredation of government property and trespass.  

Calling the action “serious criminal activity” carried out by defendants with “long criminal histories” who were a threat to the safety of the community, Knoche asked Baker to withhold bond.

The seven Kings Bay Plowshares were already a bit rattled as we faced a group of southeast Georgia federal and state judiciary and police folks who likely can make no sense of the actions of seven older adults breaking into a perfectly wonderful submarine base for the purposes of smashing idols and beating swords into plowshares.

In more than a quarter century since the Kings Bay Trident naval base was proposed by President Jimmy Carter, there has been little public opposition from the St. Marys, Georgia community that has reaped enormous economic benefits from the Trident’s weapons of mass destruction.

Knoche’s comments were in stark contrast to those of the Kings Bay Naval Base’s Public Affairs Officer Scott Bassett who told media outlets that “at no time was anyone threatened,” adding that “there were no reported injuries, and no military personnel or assets were in danger.” Defendant Mark Colville responded to Knoche saying, “We are the most peaceful people I know of on the planet. We’re trying to protect the community (from Trident).”

Defendant Carmen Trotta, who along with Elizabeth McAlister and Fr. Steve Kelly entered a deadly force zone that contained nuclear storage bunkers, said the trio took care to tell the U.S. Marines who apprehended them that, “We come in peace. We mean you no harm. We are unarmed.”

In the end, Magistrate Baker said the actions of the Kings Bay Plowshares had “an element of danger to it” and he ordered a secured bond and monitored house arrest for six of us. Fr. Kelly was denied bond because he has a federal detainer from Washington state. Colville, McAlister, Martha Hennessy, Clare Grady and I were given $50,000 bond each, $45,000 of which was unsecured. Trotta, who fought back tears as he talked about his thirty years working and living among the poor “who had nothing, who have to sleep out in the cold at night.” Trotta told Baker he had no funds and practiced a life of voluntary poverty but he could raise perhaps $1,000 for bond. Baker compassionately agreed to the $1,000 bond for Trotta, with $49,000 unsecured. Trotta told Baker that he splits his time between living at St. Joseph’s Catholic Worker House in Manhattan and living with his elderly father on Long Island. On May 24 or soon thereafter, three of us who are accepting the terms of release – Trotta, Hennessy and I  – expect to be released on bond, with the four others remaining in the Glynn County Detention Center.

With limited media coverage and sparse local support in the southeast Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida areas, the three of us released are planning to devote some time to working to organize local support leading up to our trial. The defendants asked Magistrate Baker to make arrangements for us to travel back to Brunswick County, Georgia for trial preparation, including shared meeting time among all seven defendants. We hope this happens. “Sometimes when you make a decision nobody’s happy,” Magistrate Baker said. “I don’t know if Mr. Knoche is very happy. I don’t know if the defendants are very happy.”

Following the hearing, defendants, lawyers and many court personnel gathered together for informal conversation inside the bar of the courtroom. The U.S. marshals joked with the defendants and relationships were established.

The bond hearing went a long way towards humanizing the initial tense, chilled formality of the court scene. Magistrate Baker became kinder and softer and U.S. Attorney Knoche was more friendly and more at ease as the hearing went well past business hours. “It was transformative,” said New Orleans-based Plowshares defense attorney Anna Lellelid, referring to the narratives presented by the defendants. “You were all transformative.”

[Editor’s note: In court that day, all seven nuclear abolition activists entered pleas of not guilty. A pre-trial motions hearing is expected in early August. UPDATE – Patrick O’Neill, Carmen Trotta and Martha Hennessy were released on bond to house arrest on May 24, 2018.]
(Patrick O’Neill, one of the Kings Bay Plowshares, is a Catholic Worker, journalist, husband and father. For more information about the action, visit the Kings Bay Plowshares website at

May 25, 2018

Thank you for supporting the Kings Bay Plowshares. As many of you know, the trial and jail witness are a powerful and important part of the work for nuclear disarmament. Here is where the Kings Bay Plowshare are now in that process.

In early May, the Kings Bay Plowshares were indicted in the Southern District of Georgia, Brunswick division. The seven were charged with four counts: Conspiracy, Destruction of Property on a Naval Station, Depredation of Government Property, and Trespass.  On May 17, 2018, the seven were arraigned and pled not guilty. Magistrate R. Stan Baker presided. A motions hearing was set for early August 3rd (tentative).

At the May 17th court date, bond was set for six of the seven. Steve Kelly SJ was not offered bond due to a pending case at the naval submarine base in Washington State. Conditions of release required that each of the six post a $50,000 surety with $5,000 cash paid ($1,000 for Carmen Trotta). As well, the court required that they wear ankle monitors, be subject to home confinement, and surrender their passports. Martha Hennessy, Carmen Trotta, and Patrick O’Neill chose to accept these conditions and bond out in hopes of being able to continue the work of organizing for nuclear disarmament from their home communities as they await trial. Liz McAlister, Clare Grady, and Mark Colville elected to continue writing, praying, and organizing from within the Glynn County Jail in Brunswick, Georgia. On May 24th, Martha, Carmen, and Patrick were released from Glynn County, traveled home, and began their home confinement.

Currently, Liz McAlister is represented by attorneys Bill Quigley and Jason Clark (local sponsor) Martha Hennessy is represented by attorneys Anna Lellelid and Jason Clark (local sponsor), Clare Grady is represented by Stephanie McDonald. Attorney Matt D’Aloisio will be standby counsel for Mark Colville, who will be representing himself. Patrick O’Neill will be representing himself with Darrel Gossett as standby counsel. Steve Kelly and Carmen Trotta are representing themselves. Other attorneys are helping in various capacities as well.

A motions hearing has been set for August 3rd (tentative). At that hearing the seven and their attorneys and, on the opposing side, the prosecution, will argue motions related to the trial.

Around the time of that hearing, the legal team expects that the timing of the trial will become clearer. As soon as a trial date is announced, the legal team will share that news with supporters.

The legal team and the seven members of the Kings Bay Plowshares expect to win this case. The Kings Bay Plowshares will continue throughout this process to show how nuclear weapons are illegal and immoral. They will continue to illustrate how nuclear weapons kill everyday through the theft of resources from desperately poor communities, the ecological and public health catastrophe of the mining, production, and waste processes, and the looming threat posed by their existence. The seven and their attorneys will make a clear and powerful case that they were upholding the law when they went to the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base and are innocent of any crime.