Trump pardons ranchers who inspired stand-off at OR refuge

Justin Sullivan  Getty Images North America

Justin Sullivan Getty Images North America

The father and son ranchers, whose re-arrest and imprisonment on arson charges after they'd served their sentences sparked the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016, were pardoned Tuesday by President Donald Trump.

Trump signed full pardons for Dwight Lincoln Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond, a father-son team convicted in 2012 on two counts of arson on federal land in connection with fires in 2001 and 2006.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who represents the area that includes the Hammonds' ranch, cheered Trump's pardon as a win against federal overreach. They claimed to be keeping invasive species off of their land but prosecutors claimed they tried covering up evidence of poaching.

"Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency", the White House said.

The Oregon Farm Bureau also released a statement on the pardons, thanking everyone who "worked to end the injustice done to Steven and Dwight Hammond".

The elder Hammond has served nearly three years of his sentence, while his son has been incarcerated for four years. President Trump used his authority on Tuesday for precisely such a goal in pardoning Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven. As a result, the judge imposed significantly lesser sentences.

Their original sentence of three months in prison was turned into five-year terms after an appeal by prosecutors.

The standoff in support of the Hammonds was led by Ammon Bundy, the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a high-profile 2014 standoff with the government over grazing rights.

A full pardon grants broader absolution, which undercuts the dangerousness of setting fires and indicates that public land can be burned without effect, Weiss said. The challenge resulted in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sentencing them back to prison to complete five-year sentences, until Trump used his pardon power. He also noted the jury acquitted them on most charges.

Protesters who rallied to support the Hammonds included Ammon Bundy, who was part of the self-styled militia that broke into the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016, beginning a 41-day standoff with the US government over how it handles rangelands throughout the Western states.

"Jurors were told that Steven Hammond handed out "Strike Anywhere" matches with instructions that they be lit and dropped on the ground because they were going to 'light up the whole country on fire, '" the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement in 2015. Another key occupier, Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, was fatally shot that day by Oregon State Police.

Alan Schroeder, a lawyer for the Hammond family, said the two men could get out of prison before the day was over.

Dwight Hammond Jr. greets protesters outside his home in Burns, Oregon on January 2, 2015.

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