Oregon ranchers pardoned in case that inspired 2016 occupation

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Oregon ranchers pardoned in case that inspired 2016 occupation

President Donald Trump on Tuesday pardoned an OR rancher and his son who were jailed for arson attacks on federal land, and whose convictions triggered an armed stand-off at a wildlife refuge in 2016. The Hammonds were convicted in 2012 of setting fires that spread on government-managed land near their ranch. Although prosecuted under a post-Oklahoma City federal anti-terrorism law that carried a minimum five-year sentence, sentencing Judge Michael Hogan exercised judicial discretion and refused to impose the mandated minimum.

In a statement Tuesday announcing the pardon, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders emphasized uncertainties in the case and the prison terms and fines the Hammonds had already completed.

Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven Hammond were granted executive grants of clemency by Trump, according to a White House statement.

Their case prompted a 40-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 by protesters objecting to federal land ownership.

The elder Hammond has served nearly three years of his sentence, while his son has been incarcerated for four years. Steven Hammond, 49, has served roughly four. They have also paid $400,000 to the United States to settle a related civil suit.

"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.

"Pardoning the Hammonds sends a unsafe message to America's park rangers, wildland firefighters, law enforcement officers, and public lands managers", Center for Western Priorities said in a statement.

"Farm Bureau was shocked by the minimum five-year sentence the Hammonds faced", said American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall.

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

Prosecutors alleged in the indictment at the time that the Hammond family set fire to the rangeland after complaining the BLM was taking too long to complete required environmental studies before conducting controlled burn operations.

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

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

The Hammonds have been locked up since January 4, 2016, after they were re-sentenced following their 2012 conviction for arson on public lands. One of the occupiers, Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, was shot dead by Oregon State Police during the takeover.

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