BURNS, Ore. – Two cattle ranchers and convicted arsonists whose prison sentences sparked the takeover of a federal wildlife refuge in Southeastern Oregon returned home to Burns as free men on Wednesday morning after they were given full pardons by President Donald Trump.
Dwight and Steven Hammond were released from custody on Tuesday. They were flown home in a private jet owned by a subsidiary of Lucas Oil, according to FAA records. The Hammonds were greeted at the airport by family members, reporters and riders on horseback carrying American flags.
“We’re doing a lot of decompressing and getting back to our families,” Steven Hammond said, adding that the first thing he wanted to do is hug his family.
During a brief gathering with reporters, they thanked Rep. Greg Walden, who called for their pardons. They also thanked Trump, the community and those who sent them letters during their time in prison.
“There’s time when you get to that point, a letter means a lot," said Steven Hammond.
The Hammonds were convicted in 2012 after a jury found them guilty of intentionally and maliciously setting fires on public lands. Prosecutors said one of the arsons committed by the Hammonds was on federal land where firefighters were battling a lightning-caused fire. A burn ban and red flag warning were in effect in the area at the time.
The crime carried a five-year minimum prison sentence, but a sympathetic federal judge, on his last day before retirement, decided the penalty was too harsh andgave the father and son a much lighter prison sentence.
Prosecutors won an appeal and the Hammonds were re-sentenced to serve the mandatory minimum. The decision sparked a protest from Ammon Bundy and dozens of others, who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near the Hammond ranch in southeastern Oregon from Jan. 2 to Feb. 11, 2016.
Supporters said they were ready to celebrate the Hammonds' return home.
"I am so happy. This family has gone through so much and endured so much grief," said Rocky Hall from Susanville, Calif. "And I’m glad Trump saw what it was—and it was a political motivation to put these guys in prison."
The Hammonds were supposed to appear at a news conference near Burns, Oregon, Wednesday afternoon but abruptly called it off after being “spooked” by a nearby road closure.