Two ranchers whose case sparked the armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge in southeast Oregon just had their sentences commuted and pardoned by Trump.
The ranchers were originally convicted in 2012 for intentionally and maliciously setting fires on public lands. According to the Department of Justice, Steven Hammond was accused of lighting a fire to cover an illegal deer hunt on land that was managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Hammond was accused of passing out matches because the family wanted to light “the whole country on fire,” by federal authorities.
Dwight Hammond Jr., and his son Steven were looking at a minimum prison sentence of five years, but the federal judge who heard the case, U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan decided the penalty was too stiff and ended up giving the Hammonds much lighter sentences. The judge sentenced Dwight Hammond Jr., to just three months, and his son, Steven received a year and a day, behind bars. After serving their time, the two men moved back to their ranch in Diamond, Oregon.
In 2015, however, prosecutors won an appeal that would overturn Hogan’s sentencing which required the two men to return to jail and complete the full five year sentence. Outrage over the sentences being overturned led to protesters filling the streets of Burns, Oregon and in January of 2016, protesters began what would turn into a 41-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, with complaints that the Hammonds were simply victims of federal overreach.
The protest ended with Ammon Bundy being arrested on January 26th during a traffic stop, and after another key occupier, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was fatally shot the same day by Oregon State Police.
Dwight’s wife, and Steven’s mother, Susie Hammond, said she was sound asleep Tuesday morning when she was awakened by a phone call from U.S. Rep. Greg Walden saying, “He said it’s a done deal, the papers were signed.” Susie told The Oregon, “We’ve been waiting a long time. I think it’s wonderful.” She continued, “I’ve just been sitting here, on the phone since. I still can’t believe it. I won’t believe it until I see them.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement on Tuesday, calling the decision to resentence the Hammonds “unjust”. “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,” she said. “Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency.”
Trump has recently used his power to pardon several cases including a woman serving a life sentence for drug offenses, and who’s case had been brought to Trump’s attention by Kim Kardashian West, Alice Johnson. Trump has made several references to the emotional video released when Alice Johnson was freed and ran into the open arms of family members that touched the heart of many Americans. Trump also recently pardoned Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative author convicted of illegal campaign contributions; I. Lewis Libby Jr.; former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, and former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
According to the Washington Post, aides say that Trump has been especially drawn to cases where he believes the prosecution may have been politically motivated. The Trump administration called the federal prosecutors who challenged the Hammonds’ original sentence “an overzealous appeal”, one resulting in the full-five year sentences being imposed.
As of today, Dwight Hammond has served two years and eight months in prison and also 31 months of supervised release. His son, Steven has served three years and three months in prison as well as two years of supervised release.
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