President Donald Trump on Tuesday pardoned father-and-son cattle ranchers serving prison time for arson, a case that helped inspire the armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in 2016.
Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven, were convicted of starting two fires in 2001 and 2006 that damaged federal lands. The White House said Tuesday that the evidence against them was "conflicting" and the jury acquitted them on most of the charges.
The Hammonds were initially given sentences of three months to a year. Trump blamed the Obama administration for filing an "overzealous appeal" because the judge's sentence was too lenient under federal sentencing guidelines. That appeal sent the Hammonds back to prison.
The Hammond case was a rallying cry for the "sovereign citizen" movement, which is supported by some Western ranchers who oppose federal control of grazing lands. Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy, one of the leaders of the movement, cited it in his occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016.
"Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these grants of executive clemency," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
The Hammonds are serving prison sentences for setting the fires and paid $400,000 in civil damages.
"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," Sanders said.
They are the sixth and seventh pardons Trump has granted during his presidency – but the first granted to petitioners who applied for clemency to the Office of the Pardon Attorney. Trump's previous five pardons bypassed that process.
The Hammonds sought only a commutation of their prison sentences to allow them to be released early. Dwight Hammond is 76 and Steven is 49.
Instead, Trump gave them each a full pardon, restoring all their civil rights.