CONCORD, N.H. – A New Hampshire farmer who became a folk hero to gun rights activists after he was imprisoned for brandishing a handgun at a trespasser on his property won early release Wednesday.
The New Hampshire Executive Council voted unanimously to free Ward Bird, just two months into his three-year sentence.
Bird, 49, of Moultonborough, had sought a full pardon to clear his name. The council voted in his favor, but Gov. John Lynch vetoed the pardon, saying the judicial system had given Bird’s case a thorough review and he would not undermine that. The council then immediately voted to commute his sentence, and Lynch let that vote stand.
“I, like the (sentencing) judge, have concerns the punishment does not fit the crime,” Lynch said.
Bird’s felony conviction for criminal threatening with a firearm remains on his record. He can no longer possess guns.
Bird’s case has become a cause celebre since he was sent to prison Nov. 17, much to the discomfort of the farmer and scout leader. “I don’t need people using me as a cause,” Bird told the Associated Press recently.
Family members and friends formed the www.freewardbird.org movement and website and his saga has been tweeted and updated on Facebook. His case ignited the passions of gun rights advocates, tea party members and libertarians across the “Live Free or Die” state.
Bird was convicted of criminal threatening with a firearm after the March 2006 encounter with Christine Harris at his remote home on a Moultonborough hilltop.
He did not testify at his trial in 2008. The first time he testified under oath about the incident was at Tuesday’s pardon hearing.
“As God is my witness and on the honor of my family and friends in this room today, I did not point or wave a firearm at Christine Harris,” Bird said.
Harris didn’t attend the council hearing. Harris testified at trial that Bird jumped off the porch and charged her car.
Bird said he had a .45-caliber handgun in the back waistband of his pants during the encounter with Harris, but he insisted he removed it only to take out the ammunition clip before re-entering his house.