WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump is pardoning two cattle ranchers convicted of arson in a case that case sparked the armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon.
Dwight and Steven Hammond were convicted in 2012 of intentionally and maliciously setting fires on public lands. The arson crime carried a minimum prison sentence of five years, but a sympathetic federal judge, on his last day before retirement, decided the penalty was too stiff and gave the father and son much lighter prison terms.
Prosecutors won an appeal and the Hammonds were resentenced to serve the mandatory minimum.
The decision sparked a protest from Ammon Bundy and dozens of others, who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near the Hammond ranch in southeastern Oregon from Jan. 2 to Feb. 11, 2016.
Here is the press release from The White House:
Today, President Donald J. Trump signed Executive Grants of Clemency (Full Pardons) for Dwight Lincoln Hammond, Jr., and his son, Steven Hammond. The Hammonds are multi-generation cattle ranchers in Oregon imprisoned in connection with a fire that leaked onto a small portion of neighboring public grazing land. The evidence at trial regarding the Hammonds’ responsibility for the fire was conflicting, and the jury acquitted them on most of the charges.
At the Hammonds’ original sentencing, the judge noted that they are respected in the community and that imposing the mandatory minimum, 5-year prison sentence would “shock the conscience” and be “grossly disproportionate to the severity” of their conduct. As a result, the judge imposed significantly lesser sentences. The previous administration, however, filed an overzealous appeal that resulted in the Hammonds being sentenced to five years in prison. This was unjust.
Dwight Hammond is now 76 years old and has served approximately three years in prison. Steven Hammond is 49 and has served approximately four years in prison. They have also paid $400,000 to the United States to settle a related civil suit. The Hammonds are devoted family men, respected contributors to their local community, and have widespread support from their neighbors, local law enforcement, and farmers and ranchers across the West. Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency.
Congressman Greg Walden, in whose district the Hammonds reside, issued the following statement:
“Today is a win for justice, and an acknowledgement of our unique way of life in the high desert, rural West. I applaud President Trump for thoroughly reviewing the facts of this case, rightly determining the Hammonds were treated unfairly, and taking action to correct this injustice.
“For far too long, Dwight and Steven Hammond have been serving a mandatory minimum sentence that was established for terrorists. This is something that would ‘shock the conscience,’ according to Federal Judge Michael Hogan, who presided over the case and used his discretion in sentencing which later was reversed. As ranchers across eastern Oregon frequently tell me, the Hammonds didn’t deserve a five year sentence for using fire as a management tool, something the federal government does all the time.
“Moving forward, I’m encouraging the House Judiciary Committee to act on my legislation to prevent this situation from happening to other ranchers. H.R. 983 would ensure farmers and ranchers are not prosecuted as terrorists for using fire for range-management purposes.
“For now, though, I am pleased that Dwight and Steven Hammond will return to their families and ranches in Harney County. I look forward to welcoming them back home to eastern Oregon.”