Eastern Oregon ranchers sentenced for arson released from prison after presidential pardon

Photo of the Hammond family - used with permission

WASHINGTON – On Tuesday, President Donald Trump pardoned Dwight and Steven Hammond, the two Oregon ranchers whose prison sentences sparked the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, asked Trump to pardon the father and son from their sentences in June saying, “It's time for real justice, and President Trump can administer that.”

The Hammonds' family attorney told KATU they are good people and deserve the pardon in every way.

"They are incredibly happy, very excited to have their husband, father, brother, to come home to them," attorney Morgan Philpot said by phone as he drove to Burns. "[They] are eagerly looking forward to giving them a big hug."

A Pendleton jury convicted the Hammonds of arson in 2012. Prosecutors said the men set a fire to destroy evidence of game violations.

The mandatory-minimum sentence for the charge was five years in prison. But, a federal judge went against the guidelines and delivered them a lighter sentence. Dwight was sentenced to three months and Steven was sentenced to a year in prison, with three years of post-prison supervision each.

Prosecutors appealed their punishment and won. The Hammonds were re-sentenced to five years in federal prison in 2016.

The Hammonds initially asked for clemency from President Barack Obama, and their request regained traction under President Trump.

In an official release about the pardon, The White House says the Hammonds were imprisoned for a fire "that leaked onto a small portion of neighboring public grazing land."

The White House says Dwight has served about three years in Prison. Steven has served about four years in prison. They have also paid $400,000 to the United States to settle a related civil suit, The White House said.

The White House said, "Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency."

But not everyone is in support.

Former U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon, Dwight Holton, told reporters that "it's a bad day for justice."

The Center for Western Priorities issued a statement Tuesday expressing their disagreement with the pardon. In it they said, "Pardoning the Hammonds sends a dangerous message to America’s park rangers, wildland firefighters, law enforcement officers, and public lands managers. President Trump, at the urging of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, has once again sided with lawless extremists who believe that public land does not belong to all Americans."

After receiving the news of the pardon, Walden released the following statement:

“Today is a win for justice, and an acknowledgement of our unique way of life in the high desert, rural West. I applaud President Trump for thoroughly reviewing the facts of this case, rightly determining the Hammonds were treated unfairly, and taking action to correct this injustice.

“For far too long, Dwight and Steven Hammond have been serving a mandatory minimum sentence that was established for terrorists. This is something that would ‘shock the conscience,’ according to Federal Judge Michael Hogan, who presided over the case and used his discretion in sentencing which later was reversed. As ranchers across eastern Oregon 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.

“Moving forward, I’m encouraging the House Judiciary Committee to act on my legislation to prevent this situation from happening to other ranchers. H.R. 983 would ensure farmers and ranchers are not prosecuted as terrorists for using fire for range-management purposes.

“For now, though, I am pleased that Dwight and Steven Hammond will return to their families and ranches in Harney County. I look forward to welcoming them back home to eastern Oregon.”

Full press release from The White House:

Today, President Donald J. Trump signed Executive Grants of Clemency (Full Pardons) for Dwight Lincoln Hammond, Jr., and his son, Steven Hammond. 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 evidence at trial regarding the Hammonds’ responsibility for the fire was conflicting, and the jury acquitted them on most of the charges.

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. 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.

Dwight Hammond is now 76 years old and has served approximately three years in prison. Steven Hammond is 49 and has served approximately four years in prison. They have also paid $400,000 to the United States 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. Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency.

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