Oregon ranchers wrongly accused

Trump’s move marks yet another big victory for backers of the Hammonds, including Ammon Bundy and his followers who repeatedly cited the case as the trigger for the 41-day occupation of the wildlife refuge that abutted the Hammond family ranch. Bundy viewed the case as an example of the federal government run amok. A jury acquitted him and other key takeover figures of all federal charges.

Maxine Bernstein

Oregon Live

President Trump pardons Oregon ranchers whose plight led to refuge occupation

President Donald Trump on Tuesday commuted the sentences and pardoned two eastern Oregon ranchers serving time in federal prison for setting fire to public land in a case that inflamed their supporters and gave rise to the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The decision will free Dwight Hammond Jr., 76, and son Steven Hammond, 49, convicted in 2012 of arson on Harney County land where they had grazing rights for their cattle. They were ordered back to prison in early 2016 to serve out five-year sentences.

“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.”

Susie Hammond, Dwight’s wife and Steven’s mother, said she was sound asleep Tuesday morning and awakened by a call from U.S. Rep. Greg Walden. “He said it’s a done deal, the papers were signed,” she recalled. “We’ve been waiting a long time. I think it’s wonderful.”

Though Susie Hammond believed her husband and son had a strong case for clemency, she was reluctant to get her hopes up.

“I’ve just been sitting here, on the phone since,” she said. “I still can’t believe it. I won’t believe it until I see them.”

Trump’s move marks yet another big victory for backers of the Hammonds, including Ammon Bundy and his followers who repeatedly cited the case as the trigger for the 41-day occupation of the wildlife refuge that abutted the Hammond family ranch. Bundy viewed the case as an example of the federal government run amok. A jury acquitted him and other key takeover figures of all federal charges.

Both Hammonds were convicted of setting a fire in 2001, and the son was convicted of setting a second fire in 2006. A federal judge initially sentenced the father to three months in prison and the son to one year after they successfully argued that the five-year mandatory minimum was unconstitutional.

They served the time and were out of prison when prosecutors challenged the shorter terms before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and won. Another federal judge in 2015 sent the ranchers back to complete the full sentences.

According to the Trump administration, federal prosecutors who challenged the Hammonds’ original sentence filed “an overzealous appeal” that resulted in full five-year sentences.

“This was unjust,” the White House said in its statement.

As of this month, 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.

“I am very happy for the entire Hammond family, who I have known and respected for 25 years,” said attorney Larry Matasar, who represents Steven Hammond. “I hope that Dwight and Steven will soon be able to continue their work on the Hammond Ranch.”

Susie Hammond, Dwight’s wife and mother to Steven, several weeks earlier heard that Trump was considering a pardon.  At that time, she said she had a “sense that things are moving forward and I have faith in our president. If anyone is going to help them, he’d be the one.”

A harsh toll: Mandatory sentence inspired occupation

A harsh toll: Mandatory sentence inspired occupation

The federal criminal case that made Steven and Dwight Hammond Jr. martyrs to an angry cadre of protesters was built around controversial mandatory minimum sentences. Federal prosecutors refused to budge off their demand the Hammonds serve five years.

In clemency petitions, lawyers for the Hammonds cited the ranchers’ longtime service to their Harney County community, the severity of their punishment, the trial judge’s support and their family situation.

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