Saturday, 16 February, 2019

A Worthy Pardon for the Hammonds

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Deanna Wagner | 11 July, 2018, 06:24

President Trump on Tuesday granted pardons to father-and-son cattle ranchers in southeastern OR who were sentenced to serve prison time on two separate occasions for the same charges of arson on public lands.

Dwight Hammond, 76, and his son Steven, 49, were convicted in 2012 and sent to prison on arson charges.

President Trump has granted full pardons to two OR ranchers who were jailed after a controlled burn migrated onto public land.

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.

In announcing the pardons White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders dubbed the appeal from prosecutors "overzealous", calling the sentencing "unjust".

The statement added: "Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency". In both those years, the US government said the Hammonds set fires that spread onto land managed by the [Bureau of Land Management].

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The return to prison of Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond helped spark the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in early 2016. The Hammonds could have faced less than a year in prison under a plea offer they declined, she said. The pair had also coughed up $400,000 to settle a civil suit with the feds. One hundred acres of public land were burned, according to The Washington Post.

"Jurors were told that Steven Hammond handed out "Strike Anywhere" matches with instructions that they be lit and dropped on the ground because they were going to 'light up the whole country on fire, '" the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement in 2015.

In 2016, as a result of their sentencing, Ammon Bundy gathered supporters and took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon.

While numerous Hammonds' supporters didn't approve of the takeover, they saw the Obama administration's pursuit of longer prison sentences as vindictive.

The federal government's approach to the Hammonds reflects "prosecutorial misconduct" that's evident in other cases, said Ramona Morrison, daughter of deceased Nevada rancher and "Sagebrush Rebellion" icon Wayne Hage. But the Obama administration demanded they go back into court "where they were sentenced to further time in prison under an anti-terrorism law, even though there was no evidence presented that the ranchers had planned or engaged in terrorism in any way". Another key occupier, Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, was fatally shot that day by Oregon State Police.

A member of the group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters walks to one of it's buildings, January 4, 2016, near Burns, Oregon.