By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - President Donald Trump on Tuesday pardoned two convicted arsonist ranchers whose imprisonment sparked an armed standoff with authorities.
Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven Hammond, were convicted in 2012 of intentionally setting federal lands ablaze in Oregon. A federal judge originally sentenced them to light prison sentences despite the statutory minimum five-year sentence.
The Justice Department under the Barack Obama administration appealed the sentence, and won its case to impose the minimum five-year term in 2015, sparking a standoff between extremist anti-government activists, and federal authorities at an Oregon wildlife refuge.
Ammon Bundy's armed followers barricaded themselves inside the federal building for more than a month beginning in early January 2016 before surrendering.
The father and son were both convicted of setting a blaze in 2001 that witnesses testified they started in order to conceal their illegal killing of deer on federal property. The fire consumed nearly 140 acres before it was quelled.
Steven Hammond, the son, was also convicted of another case of arson related to the illegal 2006 burning of several "back fires" to protect his property after a lightning storm ignited several fires nearby. The fires Hammond set on federal land without notification endangered the lives of firefighters battling to contain the already existing blazes.
At the time, acting U.S. Attorney Billy Williams said the five-year sentences upheld for the Hammonds "are intended to be long enough to deter those like the Hammonds who disregard the law and place fire fighters and others in jeopardy.”
But in announcing Trump's decision to issue the Hammonds full pardons, the White House said "justice is overdue" for the father and son while taking a shot at the Obama administration for its insistence on following sentencing guidelines.
"The previous administration, however, filed an overzealous appeal that resulted in the Hammonds being sentenced to five years in prison," spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement, referring to the administration's appeal of the original sentencing. "This was unjust."
"The Hammonds are devoted family men, respected contributors to their local community, and have widespread support from their neighbors, local law enforcement, and farmers and ranchers across the West," she added.