July 10 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump on Tuesday pardoned two cattle ranchers convicted of arson in a fight against the federal government that later sparked the occupation of a wildlife refuge in Oregon.
Dwight and Steven Hammond were convicted in 2012 of intentionally setting fires on public lands under a domestic terrorism law, after having served several months in jail for the same offense.
The decision sparked a protest four years later by Ammon Bundy and others, who took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Ore., for 40 days in January and February 2016. They argued the Hammonds were victims of federal overreach.
Tuesday, Trump said evidence at the Hammonds' trial over their responsibility for the fires was conflicting. He also noted the jury acquitted them on most charges.
"At the Hammonds' original sentencing, the judge noted that they are respected in the community and that imposing the mandatory minimum, 5-year prison sentence would shock the conscience and be grossly disproportionate to the severity of their conduct," Trump said. "As a result, the judge imposed significantly lesser sentences.
"The [Obama] administration, however, filed an overzealous appeal that resulted in the Hammonds being sentenced to five years in prison. This was unjust."
Dwight Hammond, now 76, has served about three years in prison and Steven Hammond, 49, about four years. The two paid $400,000 to the Bureau of Land Management to settle a related civil suit.
"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," Trump continued. "Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these grants of executive clemency."
Occupier and group spokesman LaVoy Finicum, 56, died during the 2016 occupation when he was shot by federal agents following a pursuit. He and others were driving to a nearby town for a meeting.
In January, a Navada judge dismissed charges against rancher Cliven Bundy and his sons for a 2014 standoff that also opposed federal overreach treatment and preceded the Oregon occupation.