Trump pardons OR ranchers who set fires on federal land

11 July, 2018, 06:26 | Author: Sheila Harris
  • Justin Sullivan  Getty Images North America

President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed full pardons for two OR ranchers serving federal prison time for setting fire to public land.

The Hammonds' crime of intentionally starting a fire on public land-which witnesses alleged was aimed at covering up the illegal slaughter of deer-carried a minimum prison sentence of five years, but a sympathetic judge decided in 2012 to hand the ranchers a far lighter sentence.

The father and son served time and were out of prison when prosecutors challenged the shorter terms and won, OregonLive said, adding that another federal judge in 2015 sent the ranchers back to complete the full sentences.

In a statement Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called that decision "unjust".

"Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency", the White House said. 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.

Their case became a cause celebre among land rights protesters, who gathered at the family home in Burns and rallied to their support before taking over the nearby Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in a standoff with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"The Hammonds were serial arsonists who stole from U.S. taxpayers for years", former federal prosecutor Dwight Holton told KGW when he heard the news.

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Most of the protesters at the Malheur site were acquitted of charges the government brought against them.

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

"If the Hammonds are jailed for unintentionally losing control of a backfire, so should BLM agents, whose gross mismanagement causes death and destruction every summer", she said. "The 2001 blaze burned 139 acres of public land, according to court documents; the 2006 fire - for which only Steven was convicted - burned an additional acre of public land".

The U.S. Attorney's Office in OR said Astarita falsely stated he had not fired his weapon during the attempted arrest of protester LaVoy Finicum, who was shot dead by another officer during the incident, "when he knew he had in fact fired his weapon".

Aides say that Trump has been especially drawn to cases in which he believes the prosecution may have been politically motivated - a situation that may remind him of his own position at the center of the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russian election meddling.

On Jan. 2, 2016, militants seized the headquarters of the wildlife refuge in Harney County to protest the Hammonds' prosecution and sentencing.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who represents the area that includes the Hammonds' ranch, cheered Trump's pardon as a win against federal overreach.

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