OMAHA (DTN) -- President Donald Trump on Tuesday granted full pardons to Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steve Hammond, whose conviction and prison sentences over a grass fire led to a high-profile standoff at a national wildlife refuge in early 2016.
The Hammonds had battles with the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) going back to the 1990s over issues such as fires either started on or that spread onto BLM lands. The father and son were indicted after a 2006 fire and were convicted in 2012 of maliciously damaging real property of the U.S.
The federal judge in this case found that the sentencing guidelines for Steve were eight to 14 months and for Dwight were was zero to six months. But the arson charged against the ranchers came under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which mandated five-year minimum sentences, so prosecutors appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which vacated the original sentences.
In the executive clemency granted Tuesday by the president, the White House stated the ranchers were "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."
The White House added, "At the Hammonds' original sentencing, the judge noted that they are respected in the community and that imposing the mandatory minimum, five-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."
The White House cited that Dwight Hammond is now 76 years old and served approximately three years in prison, while Steven Hammond is 49 and served approximately four years in prison. The ranchers also have paid $400,000 to the federal government 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," the White House stated.
The Hammonds also had the support of the Oregon Farm Bureau Federation and the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, which defended the ranchers by creating a White House petition during the Obama administration, calling for their release.
The occupation and standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon began just as the Hammonds were required to return to federal prison. The occupation lasted until Feb. 11, 2016, when the leaders were arrested, and one of them was shot to death during a pursuit and arrest. More than two dozen people were charged with federal crimes, though some of the leaders, including Ammon and Ryan Bundy, were acquitted earlier this year.
Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council and NCBA Federal Lands, praised the president's decision to pardon the Hammonds.
"We are extremely grateful to President Trump for granting a full pardon to Dwight and Steven Hammond," Lane stated in a news release. "The Hammonds were forced to suffer from grave injustice for far too long, and the entire ranching community is relieved that they will be reunited with their families. No rancher undertaking normal agricultural practices should fear spending years in jail at the hands of the federal government. NCBA and PLC have continued to advocate for the Hammonds' release, and we would like to thank Representative Greg Walden and the many others who worked tirelessly on their behalf."
2015 Portland Oregonian article on the Hammonds: http://dld.bz/…
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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