Washington, DC – President Donald Trump issued full pardons on Tuesday to two cattle ranchers who had been convicted of arson in the case that led to the armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon in protest.
Dwight Hammond and his son Steven Hammond were convicted in 2012 of setting fires on public lands, after a fire on their own ranch leaked onto government lands, according to the Associated Press.
The Hammonds, members of a multi-generational cattle ranching family, said they lit the first fire in 2001 to reduce the growth of invasive plants, according to the Department of Justice.
A relative of the Hammonds testified that the fire was set to cover up that they had illegally slaughtered several deer on federal land.
The Hammonds set a second fire on their property in 2006 during a burn ban in a period where there were several wildfires. The Hammonds set the fire to protect their winter feed from the other wildfires, but the fire spread onto federal land.
The judge sentenced Dwight to three months in prison and his son to one year, despite the mandatory minimum for five years, according to the New York Post.
A White House press statement announcing the pardons on July 10 pointed out that 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 White House explained in the statement.
Both Hammonds served their time and were released, but a federal judge ruled in October of 2015 that their lighter sentences had violated U.S. minimum sentencing laws, and ordered them both back to prison for four years each, the New York Post reported.
The White House statement called the Obama administration’s action an “overzealous appeal,” and said the resentencing of the Hammonds to five years “was unjust.”
The resentencing kicked off a massive controversy involving the Bundy family and the federal government over the use of public lands, the New York Post reported.
A group of armed protesters led by Ammon Bundy, the son of a Nevada rancher who was involved in a 2014 grazing rights standoff against the government, took control of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for 41 days to publicize their disagreement with the federal government’s treatment of the Hammonds.
The Hammonds had previously threatened federal authorities lives in a dispute going back to the 1980s, but they opposed the Bundy takeover, according to Washington Post.
Now 76 years old, Dwight Hammond has served about three years in prison, and his son, 49-year-old Steven, has served approximately four years. They have also paid $400,000 to the U.S. government to settle a related civil suit, the White House statement said.
“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 statement read. “Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency.”
The grants of executive clemency for the Hammonds were only the latest pardons to be issued by President Trump.
In June, the President pardoned Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old woman who had already served 21 years for her role in a cocaine trafficking operation, after a meeting about Johnson with Kim Kardashian West at the White House, FOX News reported.
In May, he pardoned conservative thought leader Dinesh D’Souza who was convicted of making an illegal campaign contribution in 2014.
In April, President Trump pardoned a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, who was caught up a scandal involving the public identification of a Central Intelligence Agency secret agent during the Bush administration, FOX News reported.
And in March, the President pardoned a Navy sailor who had been convicted of taking photos of classified parts of a submarine.
President Trump told reporters on June 8 that he was seriously considering a pardon for Muhammad Ali, Time reported.
FOX News reported that White House aides have said the President was especially interested in cases where the prosecutions may have been politically motivated.