President Trump signed full pardons on Tuesday for Oregon cattle ranchers Dwight Hammond, 76, and his son, Steven Hammond, 49, whose long-running dispute with the federal government ended with them going to prison for arson.
The Hammonds initially served time in jail after being sentenced in 2012, convicted of setting fire to land that was near their ranch. But after those sentences were found to fall short of federal five-year minimums, they were ordered to be sentenced again and serve the full terms.
Protesters who rallied to support the Hammonds included Ammon Bundy, who was part of the self-styled militia that in 2016 broke into the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, beginning a standoff with the U.S. government over how it handles rangelands throughout the western states.
The Hammonds called the five-year terms unconstitutional and fought them in court. But the full sentences were imposed in October of 2015, months after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Hammonds’ petitions for review.
As NPR’s Colin Dwyer wrote in 2016:
“The seeds of the current situation were sown in 2001 and 2006. In both those years, the U.S. government said the Hammonds set fires that spread onto land managed by the [Bureau of Land Management]. The 2001 blaze burned 139 acres of public land, according to court documents; the 2006 fire — for which only Steven was convicted — burned additional acre of public land.”
Here’s how the Justice Department described Steven Hammond’s actions after he was resentenced in 2015:
“Witnesses at trial, including a relative of the Hammonds, testified the arson occurred shortly after Steven Hammond and his hunting party illegally slaughtered several deer on BLM property. Jurors were told that Steven Hammond handed out ‘Strike Anywhere’ matches with instructions that they be lit and dropped on the ground because they were going to ‘light up the whole country on fire.’ One witness testified that he barely escaped the eight to ten foot high flames caused by the arson.”