Farmer Jailed for Threatening Trespasser with Gun Has Sentence Commuted

February 3, 2011 - 4:32 PM

Ward Bird, farmer

New Hampshire farmer Ward Bird takes questions from Gov. John Lynch, D-N.H., during a pardon hearing before the governor and Executive Council, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011, in Concord, N.H. Bird is serving a three-year sentence for brandishing a gun at a female trespasser. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Concord, N.H. (AP) - A New Hampshire farmer freed after his three-year sentence for threatening a trespasser with a gun was commuted said Thursday it was exhilarating to wake up to the sounds of his four children bustling around his home.

Ward Bird, whose cause was championed by gun rights activists, tea party members and libertarians across the "Live Free or Die" state, told The Associated Press that he can't yet grasp the extent of media coverage and political outcry his case has generated.

"I'm a lot out of the loop on that," the 49-year-old Bird said in a telephone interview from his home. "I've only gotten bits and pieces of information in jail."

Bird told Gov. John Lynch and the Executive Council at Tuesday's pardon hearing that he never waved or pointed a gun at Christine Harris when she drove to the back of his remote house in search of property for sale.

The Executive Council voted unanimously to grant Bird a full pardon on the criminal threatening with a firearm charge. Lynch vetoed that, however, saying the judicial branch thoroughly reviewed and affirmed Bird's 2008 conviction and he would not undermine that.

The council then voted unanimously to commute Bird's mandatory, minimum three-year sentence, and Lynch let that vote stand, saying he had concerns about whether the punishment fit the crime.

Bird's testimony Tuesday marked the first time he'd been outside jail since his incarceration Nov. 17, after the state Supreme Court affirmed his conviction and sentence. Although he wore a dark suit to the hearing, he was still a prisoner and prohibited from having contact with his wife, Ginny, or their children, ages 4 to 18, seated in the front row.

"That was very tough, not to be able to go over and give them all a big hug," Bird said. "That was a roller coaster for me. I wanted to try to focus on the job at hand - making sure the governor and Executive Council got their answers."

A full pardon would have restored the rights Bird lost with his felony conviction, including the right to possess firearms. "It's somewhat frustrating, but there's no anger involved," Bird said. "It is what it is."

Bird sold off his collection of two dozen guns, most of them antiques, "and was able to pay some bills," he said.

Bird was released at about 9:15 p.m. Wednesday and went home to a late supper of pork chops. His house Thursday morning was a blur of friends and family members dropping by to hug him and welcome him home. He said it's been overwhelming.

"I'm still struggling to get out of prison," Bird said. "My brain is still in there. I'm trying to get reacclimated."

He didn't sleep much his first night home because he's accustomed to waking up every half-hour as guards made their rounds. But he said waking up to the silence outside his hilltop home and the sounds of family within was "exhilarating" and "very calming."

Bird had time to think while behind bars and said he plans to change his life in ways he wouldn't specify, saying they are "more personal, more religious."

During deliberations, several councilors said they had serious concerns about the credibility of Bird's accuser. They said jurors in his 2008 trial never heard about her extensive criminal record, including convictions for animal cruelty and writing bad checks.

Bird says he would have nothing to say if he encountered Harris on the streets.

"I've forgiven her," Bird said. "She's not someone I would spend much time talking to. I have better people to talk to."

Bird, a sixth-generation farmer, said his stint behind bars delayed his preparation for spring planting on his Picnic Rocks Farm, but said setbacks are ingrained in farming.

"Not that this would be in anyone's farm plan," he said.