Today President Trump pardoned two Oregon ranchers who were sentenced to five years in prison under a law intended to punish terrorists because two backfires they set to protect their property burned a few acres of public land, according to The Oregonian.
The decision frees Dwight Hammond Jr., 76, and son Steven Hammond, 49. Both were convicted in 2012 of arson.
A federal judge refused to sentence the pair to a minimum mandatory five years in prison under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which was passed following the Oklahoma City bombing. The father was sentenced to three months and son to a year, but prosecutors appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ordered the five-year sentences be imposed.
“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 in a prepared statement. “Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency.”
The resentencing of the Hammonds sparked the 41-day takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by protesters, including two of Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy’s sons. A jury acquitted them of federal charges resulting from the takeover. They along with their fathers had charges against them dropped over the 2014 armed standoff with federal agents trying to confiscated Bundy’s cattle for failure to pay grazing fees. A judge ruled the prosecution failed to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence.
The Hammonds played no part in the Malheur protest and quietly returned to prison.
The two fires the Hammonds set burned a grand total of 140 acres. When the Hammonds were first convicted veteran federal Judge Michael Hogan refused to impose the five-year mandatory minimum, saying that was “grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offenses here.”
The judge reasoned, “Out in the wilderness here, I don’t think that’s what the Congress intended. And in addition, it just would not be — would not meet any idea I have of justice, proportionality.”
President Obama announced in 2014 that he would use commutations to right the wrong of overly harsh sentences that did not fit the crime.
White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said at the time, “The president believes that one important purpose [of clemency] can be to help correct the effects of outdated and overly harsh sentences that Congress and the American people have since recognized are no longer in the best interests of justice.”
The Hammonds appeared to fit in that category, but Obama did not act, despite editorials calling for him to do so.
As of this month, according to The Oregonian, Dwight Hammond has served two years and eight months in prison and 31 months of supervised release. His son has served three years and three months in prison and two years of supervised release.
In 2014 the Bureau of Land Management refused to renew a grazing permit for the Hammond ranch, which has crippled the business, the family told the newspaper.
“If the Hammonds are unable to return to the ranch in the near future, the legacy and livelihood Dwight and Steven Hammond have been building for their family could truly be lost,” attorney Larry Matasar wrote in his petition. “A clemency would not only serve as a balm to the community’s angst about these sentences, but very practically, give the Hammonds a real chance to keep their ranch afloat.”