OR cattle ranchers released from prison after presidential pardon


President Trump on Tuesday pardoned the father and son from OR whose imprisonment for setting fires on federal land sparked a 41-day long takeover of a wildlife refuge in the state.

The two men, Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven, were convicted in 2012 for setting fire to federal lands where they held grazing rights for their cattle. "As ranchers across eastern OR 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".

The two were initially sentenced to less than the legal minimum five-year prison sentence by a judge who thought the minimum too harsh and later released, the father after three months and the son after a year. The Hammonds surrendered to federal authorities, and were sent back to prison to serve out their five-year terms.

In a statement deriding the former administration's handling of the case, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders cited how a judge ruled that the Hammond's faced a disproportionate sentence given their crimes.

Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven Hammond were granted executive grants of clemency by Trump, according to a White House statement. The Hammonds said they set the fires to protect their land from invasive species; prosecutors later said it was to hide eveidence of illegal deer hunting.

The armed standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in remote southeast OR followed a judge's ruling sending Dwight Hammond and his son Steven back to prison to serve longer terms after their initial release from shorter sentences.

The White House said Dwight Hammond, 76, has served about three years in prison.

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The move came years after the convictions of Dwight and Steven Hammond, part of a family in the high desert of eastern OR known for its generosity and community contributions. The elder Hammond said he was trying to fend off invasive species.

Dwight Hammond set a prescribed burn on about 300 acres of his own land that then traveled onto Bureau of Land Management property and burned an additional 139 acres, his lawyer wrote.

"The evidence at trial regarding the Hammonds' responsibility for the fire was conflicting, and the jury acquitted them on most of the charges", the statement said.

The OFB, which has advocated on the Hammonds' behalf, said on Tuesday that their punishment was a case of "prosecutorial overreach and bureaucratic vendetta".

In its statement Tuesday, the White House called the appeal "overzealous" and the resulting sentence "unjust".

On Jan. 2, 2016, militants seized the headquarters of the wildlife refuge in Harney County to protest the Hammonds' prosecution and sentencing.

"It's also not clear yet if other ranchers who graze their cattle on public lands might decide to openly defy federal laws, [with] the Hammonds being pardoned", Kirk says.