World

Trump pardon of OR ranchers sparks concern, jubilation

Trump pardon of OR ranchers sparks concern, jubilation

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday pardoned two imprisoned OR ranchers whose sentencing on arson convictions sparked the 2016 occupation of a wildlife refuge, part of a long-simmering dispute over federal land policies in the U.S. West.

The Hammond family, well-known in eastern OR, had been embroiled for years in a legal dispute over several fires that damaged federal property.

The Hammonds were sentenced to five years in prison in 2015 after being convicted of arson for a fire that prosecutors said was committed on federal land where they had grazing rights leased to them for cattle ranching.

After the government's appeal in 2016, a different federal judge ordered the pair back to prison to serve the full five years, sparking protests and the refuge occupation.

"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", Trump continued. The Hammonds had set fires in 2001 and 2006-one to fight invasive species, another to protect.

The perceived unjust sentence for the Hammonds inspired Ammon Bundy to lead an armed standoff in early 2016, when a group of armed men broke into the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.

It added: "Dwight Hammond is now 76 years old and has served approximately three years in prison". The Hammonds could have faced less than a year in prison under a plea offer they declined, she said. They have also paid $400,000 to the United States to settle a related civil suit.




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

Dwight and Steven Hammond were convicted in 2012 of intentionally and maliciously setting fires on public lands.

"I am not going to apply the mandatory minimum ... because, to me, to do so under the 8th Amendment would result in a sentence which is grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offenses here", explained trial Judge Michael Hogan.

"We went up there to prevent the atrocity from happening to begin with, and if people would have listened to us, the Hammonds wouldn't have to have gone through this suffering", Bundy said in a telephone interview.

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.

Dwight Hammond Jr. greets protesters outside his home in Burns, Oregon on January 2, 2015.

During the standoff at the refuge, FBI Agent W. Joseph Astarita allegedly shot rancher Robert "LaVoy" Finicum when officers arrested leaders of the occupation.


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