Oregon Ranchers Charged with Arson, Pardoned by President Trump

Donald Trump

Two Oregon ranchers whose sentencing on arson convictions sparked the 2016 armed occupation of a wildlife refuge were due to return home on Wednesday, after being pardoned by U.S. President Donald Trump, the family said in a statement.

The jury also convicted Steven Hammond for a 2006 blaze that prosecutors said began when he started several back fires, violating a burn ban, to save his winter feed after lightning started numerous fires nearby.

In a statement Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called that decision to resentence the Hammonds "unjust". But the judge, citing their respect in the community, reduced their sentences: Dwight initially received a sentence of three months; his son, Steven, a year and a day.

A trial court agreed with the Hammonds that the five-year mandatory minimum sentence was unconstitutional and imposed lesser sentences, the U.S. Attorney's Office statement said.

The Hammonds have been locked up since January 4, 2016, after they were re-sentenced following their 2012 conviction for arson on public lands. They also paid $400,000 to the federal government in restitution.

Dwight Hammond, 76, and Steven, 49, were convicted in 2012 for setting a fire that spread onto public land after years of disputes with the US Bureau of Land Management.

The announcement came as President Trump set out for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation meetings in Brussels, Belgium. In Oregon, about half of all land is controlled by the federal government.

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In the May 2017 documentary, American Patriot: Inside the Armed Uprising Against the Federal Government, FRONTLINE investigated how the story of the Hammonds inspired Ammon Bundy to lead a month-long takeover of a federal wildlife preserve that divided the local community, and would ultimately end with one occupier being killed by law enforcement.

The pair were expected to arrive at Burns Municipal Airport in southeastern OR, about 120 miles (190 km) east of Bend, after on Wednesday morning, the family statement said.

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

Walden added that the Hammonds were "serving a mandatory minimum sentence that was established for terrorists" - referring to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which increased the penalties for using explosive or arson against federal property. The Hammonds said they set the fires to protect their land from invasive species; prosecutors later said it was to hide eveidence of illegal deer hunting.

By pardoning the OR ranchers, critics said, Trump was sending a unsafe signal and emboldening right-wing militias.

Dozens of armed people, many from out of state, who occupied the refuge near the Hammond ranch said the father and son were victims of federal overreach. If you would like to discuss another topic, look for a relevant article.

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