Trump pardons OR ranchers who sparked occupation of wildlife refuge

Adjust Comment Print

President Donald Trump's pardon of two OR ranchers convicted of arson for starting grass fires is thought by some to signify a changed federal approach to industries reliant on public lands.

Their convictions have drawn sharp rebukes from the local community amid allegations that the family was aggressively prosecuted using anti-terrorism statutes because they were outspoken about public land use in rural Oregon.

Dwight Hammond, 76, and his son, Steven, 49, were convicted in 2012 for setting a fire that spread onto public grazing land.

But President Obama's Department of Justice appealed, and in 2015, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the administration's favor.

After their lawyers argued against the five-year minimum sentence, a judge granted them much lighter terms - but federal prosecutors won an appeal and the Hammonds were required to serve the full five years. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump granted clemency to Dwight Lincoln Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven Hammond, two OR ranchers convicted of arson.

The second imprisonment caused a local backlash. The Hammonds could have faced less than a year in prison under a plea offer they declined, she said.

The pardons don't carry huge practical import; the Hammonds had already served most of their sentences.

The jury heard from three witnesses who were hunting in 2001 when they saw the Hammonds shoot over their heads to illegally slaughter a herd of deer, according to court documents. "Trump's pardon abandons human decency and will encourage more violence and extremism among his base".

In a statement on Tuesday, the White House said the decision was "unjust" and that the fire had burned only "a small portion" of public land.

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.

Ryan Bundy, one of the leaders of the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge: "It's long overdue". Another key occupier, Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, was fatally shot that day by Oregon State Police.

"The Hammonds are devoted family men, respected contributors to their local community, and have widespread support from their neighbours, local law enforcement, and farmers and ranchers across the West", a statement by the White House said.

Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Walden of OR, who lobbied the White House for the pardon of the Hammonds, said Trump's decision was "a win for justice, and an acknowledgement of our unique way of life in the high desert, rural West".

"It's a little spooky that's how far they will go", she said.

"We think this sends a very unsafe message that will put America's park rangers, law enforcement officers and public land managers at risk", he said.

But critics say the president could be ignoring valid claims for clemency as he works outside the typical pardon process, focusing on cases brought to his attention by friends, famous people and conservative media pundits.

Be Civil - It's OK to have a difference in opinion but there's no need to be a jerk.