Father and son cattle ranchers whose sentences for arson triggered the 2016 armed takeover of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon are the latest to receive a presidential pardon. President Trump pardoned Dwight Hammond Jr., 76, and Steven Hammond, 49, on Tuesday, according to a White House statement describing the pair as "devoted family men" with "widespread support from ... local law enforcement and farmers and ranchers across the West." Convicted in 2012 of setting fires that spread to federal land near the family's ranch in southeastern Oregon, the father was sentenced to three months and the son to one year by a judge who decided the five-year mandatory minimum was too harsh, reports the Oregonian. However, in 2015, an appeals court sent the Hammonds back to prison for about four years each, per the AP. They will now go free.
Prosecutors defended the appeal that sent the men back to prison, arguing the fires were meant to cover up deer poaching, not a response to invasive species as the Hammonds claimed. In protest, ranchers led by Ammon Bundy took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for 41 days beginning in January 2016, reports CNN. Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward, who oversaw the response, said the Hammonds had little involvement. "Anti-government extremists exploited the Hammond family and began attempting to use their unfortunate circumstance to gain support for their own agendas,'' he wrote in support of clemency. Dwight's wife, Susie Hammond, hinted at the pardon last week. "I have faith in our president. If anyone is going to help them, he'd be the one," she said.