Two eastern Oregon ranchers convicted of arson in both 2001 and 2006 have been resentenced based on federal mandatory minimum laws.
Dwight Lincoln Hammond Jr., 73, and his son, Steven Dwight Hammond, 46, of Diamond, Oregon were both tried and convicted for arsons committed on federal lands in 2001 and 2006 during a two-week jury trial in Pendleton, Oregon in 2012.
The trial revolved around allegations that the Hammonds who owned Hammond Ranches Inc., ignited fires on property managed by the US Bureau of Land Management in which the Hammonds had grazing rights leased to them.
The jury convicted the duo for a 2001 arson which created the Hardie-Hammond Fire located in the Steen Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area in eastern Oregon.
The Hammonds who were with a hunting party illegally killed several deer on BLM property, according to witnesses at the trial.
Jurors were informed that Steven Hammond handed out “Strike Anywhere” matches with instructions to the group that they needed to be lit and dropped on the ground.
According to Steven, they were going to “light up the whole country on fire.”
The witnesses accounts were confirmed by a relative who was told by Dwight and Steven to “keep his mouth shut and nobody needed to know about the fire,” according to court documents.
One witness told officials that after the fire was started, he barely escaped with his life after becoming trapped by eight to ten foot tall flames in the area.
Following the fire which consumed 139 acres of public lands and destroyed any evidence of the illegal game hunting, Steven called the BLM office in Burns, Oregon and claimed that the fire was started on the Hammond property to burn off invasive species which had spiraled out of control into a fire that burned public lands.
Five years later in 2006, Steven Hammond started a fire which ultimately started the Krumbo-Butte Fire located in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Steen Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area.
In August of 2006, lightning storms had started multiple fire in eastern Oregon and a burn ban was instated while BLM fire crews fought the fires.
Despite the ban, Steven claimed that he started several “back fires,” in an attempt to save his ranch’s winter feed.
The fires burned onto public land and was spotted by BLM firefighters who were camped nearby and reported to local authorities the fire was started as arson.
According to federal law, any arson on federal lands carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five-years.
When the Hammonds were originally sentenced, they argued that the sentence was unconstitutional and the trial court agreed resulting in a sentence that was below what the law required based upon the jury’s final verdict.
The case went to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which upheld the federal law by reasoning, “given the seriousness of arson, a five-year sentence is not grossly disproportionate to the offense.”
The original sentence for the Hammonds was eventually vacated by the court and it was ordered that the duo was to be resentenced to be in compliance with federal mandatory minimum laws.
In March of 2015, the Supreme Court rejected the Hammonds’ petitions for review of the case and the duo was resentenced on December 16th, 2015 by Chief Judge Aiken.
Judge Aiken imposed a five-year prison term on each of the Hammonds with credit for time they already served which was not defined the in court document.
“We all know the devastating effects that are caused by wildfires. Fires intentionally and illegally set on public lands, even those in a remote area, threaten property and residents and endanger firefighters called to battle the blaze” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Billy Williams. “Congress sought to ensure that anyone who maliciously damages United States’ property by fire will serve at least 5 years in prison. These sentences are intended to be long enough to deter those like the Hammonds who disregard the law and place fire fighters and others in jeopardy.”