President Donald Trump is considering commuting the prison sentence of Dwight and Steven Hammond, Oregon ranchers convicted as terrorists for burning 140 acres of federal land.
The Hammonds made national news when the Bundy brothers Ammon and Ryan led a takeover of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to protest a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court to send the Hammonds back to prison. Dwight Hammond, 72 at the time, had already served a three-month prison sentence. Dwight’s son Steven, 44, had served one year.
The Hammonds were convicted of arson in 2012 under the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. The Ninth Circuit ordered the Hammonds back to prison in 2014 to serve the rest of a five-year minimum prison sentence attached to a federal law passed after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to prosecute terrorists. The Hammonds were convicted of burning 140 acres of federal rangeland.
“I’ve had great attorneys tell me this is the most malicious prosecution they’ve ever seen,” Protect The Harvest (PTH) national strategic planner Dave Duquette, who is close to both Hammonds, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The travesty is what they were tried under. Not whether they started a fire. They admitted to starting the fires.”
PTH is an agriculture advocacy group started by Lucas Oil founder Forrest Lucas. Lucas’s organization has been lobbying the Trump administration to commute the Hammonds’ sentence. Vice President Mike Pence privately supports the commutation, according to Duquette, but Pence has not made a public statement either way on the matter.
The Hammonds were convicted in 2012, but the charges of arson stemmed from two fires started years before in 2001 and 2006.
The Hammonds started a fire on private property in 2001 that escaped onto federal land and burnt about 140 acres, according to court documents obtained by TheDCNF.
The ranchers were conducting a controlled burn, a common practice by ranchers and landowners, to push back an invasive species that had encroached on their pastureland. At some point the day of the fire, Steven Hammond called the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to check if a burn ban was in effect and, after being told there was no burn ban, inform the agency the ranchers would be starting fire.
Steven Hammond set the second fire in 2006. After lighting struck trees near the Hammonds’ supply of feed they were saving for the winter, starting a wildfire. Steven Hammond lit a backburn to create a barrier of charred land between the wildfire and the feed store, burning an acre of federal land in the process.
The jury likely convicted the ranchers of arson based on a 1999 warning the BLM gave the Hammonds saying they would face “serious consequences” if a fire spreads to federal land, federal judge Michael Hogan, who presided over the Hammonds’ trial, said according to court documents. Hogan sat over the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon before retiring in 2012 after the Hammonds’ case.
“The Hammonds are not the Bundys. The Bundys are not the Hammonds,” Duquette told TheDCNF. “I was sitting with Dwight and Susie Hammond in their house … [and] we got a phone call about how they went out to the [Malheur] refuge. We had no idea, nobody had any idea.”
The Bundys led a takeover of the Malheur refuge in protest of the Hammond case. Hogan had already sentenced the Hammonds, but because both sentences were less than the mandatory minimum required by the law, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sent the Hammonds back. (RELATED: Militia Occupies Empty Wildlife Refuge, Prompting Panicked Calls To Redefine ‘Terrorism’)
Hogan had originally set the prison terms lighter than the mandatory minimum, arguing the law violated the Hammonds’ Eighth Amendment rights prohibiting “cruel and unusual punishments.”
“I was livid to start with,” Duquette said, referring to when he had heard of the Malheur takeover. “The focus was off of the Hammonds and I believe that if the Refuge hadn’t happened, the Hammonds would be out of jail already. They already would have been pardoned.”
Steven Hammond is scheduled for release in mid-2019. Dwight Hammond is scheduled for release in 2020.
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