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N.H. farmer happy to be home after gun sentence eased

If Ward Bird received a full pardon, he would have regained some rights, including the right to possess firearms. If Ward Bird received a full pardon, he would have regained some rights, including the right to possess firearms.
By Lynne Tuohy
Associated Press / February 4, 2011

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CONCORD, N.H. — A New Hampshire farmer freed after his three-year sentence for threatening a trespasser with a gun was commuted said yesterday that 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, said 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,’’ Bird, 49, said by phone from his home. “I’ve only gotten bits and pieces of information in jail.’’

Bird told Governor 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 charge of criminal threatening with a firearm. 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 had 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 about 9:15 p.m. Wednesday and went home to a late supper of pork chops. Yesterday morning, his house was a blur of friends and family members dropping by to welcome him home. He said it has 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 said he didn’t sleep much his first night home because he had grown 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 said 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.’’