President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed full pardons for two Oregon ranchers serving federal prison time for setting fire to public land.
Dwight Hammond, Jr., 76, and his son Steven Hammond, 49, were convicted in 2012 under an anti-terrorism statute and received sentences of 3 months and one year, respectively, according to the Washington Post. The relatively short sentences came despite mandatory minimum sentences of five years. Once they were out of prison, however, prosecutors challenged the judge’s decision to shorten their terms. 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.
"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 White House said in a statement. "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’s decision aligns with the judge’s original sentence, which gave both men less prison time than the mandatory minimum.
"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," the statement reads. "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."
Supporters of the Hammonds, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, were outraged at prosecutors’ actions and occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016, ostensibly over the Hammonds' case. They engaged in an armed standoff with federal authorities, although the Hammonds turned themselves over to authorities to serve the additional time and did not heed the Bundys’ call to resist.
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward wrote a letter to support the Hammonds' petitions for clemency, as did Rep. Greg Walden (R., Ore.), Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe and other leaders of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association and Oregon Farm Bureau, according to the Oregonian.
"It is my humble opinion that justice would be better served if these gentlemen were afforded the opportunity to return home," Ward wrote. "For Dwight to spend his remaining years with his wife. For Steven to return to his family … and to set an example that along with being a nation of laws, we are a nation of compassion and forgiveness."
Trump came to a similar conclusion, with the White House noting that both men have now served years in prison and paid $400,000 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," the White House said. "Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency."