16:56, July 10 272 0 abajournal.com

2018-07-10 16:56:05
Trump pardons Oregon ranchers who inspired Malheur National Wildlife Refuge standoff

President Donald Trump has pardoned Dwight and Steven Hammond, the Oregon ranchers whose arson conviction inspired the 40-day standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The Hill and the Washington Post have stories.

The Hammonds were convicted of arson on federal land, stemming from incidents in 2001 and 2006. A federal district judge had originally sentenced Dwight Hammond Jr. to three months in prison and Steven Hammond to one year and one day, but federal prosecutors appealed and won five-year mandatory minimum sentences for both men under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider their case.

The White House called those sentences unjust Tuesday when announcing the pardons.

“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,” a prepared statement from the White House said. “Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these grants of executive clemency.”

Steven Hammond has served about four years in prison and his father has served about three, the Hill says. The pardons will set them free.

According to the Post, prosecutors said the 2001 fire started after Steven Hammond handed out matches and promised to “light up the whole country on fire.” The 2006 fire, the Hammonds said, was an attempt to set a controlled fire on their property, which got out of control and spread to federal land. That fire was not authorized by federal authorities, and was set during a “burn ban.” The Oregonian reports that 139 acres of public land were burned in what prosecutors said was an attempt to cover up illegal deer poaching, and that firefighters were placed in grave danger and had to be airlifted out.

Anger over the Hammonds’ sentences among locals and land-rights activists fueled a protest in Oregon in January 2016. In attendance were several members and associates of the Bundy family of Nevada, which became famous for staging an armed standoff with federal authorities over payment of cattle-grazing fees. Led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy, more than two dozen armed people broke off from the otherwise peaceful protest and took over buildings at the nearby Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The occupiers stayed at the wildlife center, which had been closed for the winter, for 41 days, during which they demanded that federal land be turned over to state or private control. However, people started to leave after January 26, when LeVoy Finicum was shot to death after trying to evade a roadblock and several others were arrested. The last occupiers were persuaded to leave on Feb. 11. Many of them were charged with federal crimes and some pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial; however, the Bundy brothers and a few others were acquitted.

The Hammonds’ attorney said at the time that they did not endorse the occupation. However, Dwight Hammond had had disputes with the wildlife refuge’s employees as long ago as 1986, according to the Post.

Local people were also skeptical of the occupiers, as ABAJournal.com reported at the time. After the pardons, former Harney County Sheriff Steve Grasty said locals were happy to see an end to the Hammonds’ case.

“None of the credit goes to Bundy,” he told the Post. “I believe this could have happened much, much earlier if the Bundys’ armed occupation hadn’t happened.”

According to the Justice Department, Trump has also pardoned Joe Arpaio, Dinesh D’Souza and Irve Lewis “Scooter” Libby, as well as Navy sailor Kristian Saucier and the late boxer Jack Johnson. He has granted commutations—which end the prison sentences but do not erase the underlying convictions—to Sholom Rubashkin and Alice Marie Johnson. Both Alice Marie Johnson and Jack Johnson were beneficiaries of lobbying by celebrities.