Trump Pardons Oregon Ranchers Convicted of Arson on Federal Lands

The father and son ranchers, whose re-arrest and imprisonment on arson charges after they'd served their sentences sparked the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016, were pardoned Tuesday by President Donald Trump.

"The Hammonds are multi-generation cattle ranchers in OR imprisoned in connection with a fire that leaked onto a small portion of neighboring public grazing land".

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

The fire burned 139 acres of public land and destroyed all evidence of the game violations, the US attorney's office said.

"Finally, an elected official did something", Bundy said.

The Hammonds, meanwhile, were convicted of a "very serious crime" that shouldn't be brushed aside, he said.

Others said they committed serious crimes and anxious that the pardons might prompt other actions involving public lands.

"The evidence at trial regarding the Hammonds' responsibility for the fire was conflicting, and the jury acquitted them on most of the charges", the statement said. "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".

The fire burned 139 acres (56 hectares) of public land and destroyed all evidence of the game violations, the US attorney's office said.

The Hammonds were given five years, with credit for time served, in 2015.

The White House noted Dwight Hammond is now 76 years old and has served approximately three years in prison. However, that was overturned by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ordered that the Hammonds be resentenced "in compliance with the law".

Local community members, as well as supporters of the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, planned to gather at the airport to welcome the two men home. It turned deadly when police shot one of the occupiers. They say he reached for a pistol at a roadblock.

The prosecutors appealed, arguing the mandatory minimum sentences had to hold. Williams declined to comment on the pardons. They also thanked Trump, the community and those who sent them letters during their time in prison.

For decades, land rights has been a thorny issue in western USA states, where the federal government owns most of the land.

Trump signed Executive Grants of Clemency, full pardons for the cattle ranchers whose fire encroached on a small portion of neighboring public grazing land.

"This was unjust", Sanders said in her statement.

The ranchers were convicted in 2012 for setting a fire that spread onto public land, after years of disputes with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Walden of OR said Trump's action is "a win for justice, and an acknowledgement of our unique way of life in the high desert, rural West".

Vanessa Coleman

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