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.
His wife, Ginny, said he would come home to "lots of tears, lots of hugs and a big celebration."
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.
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"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. Attorney General Michael Delaney said a full pardon would have restored Bird's right to own and carry guns.
Ginny Bird said that during a late afternoon telephone conversation with her husband, he proclaimed that he's not a prisoner anymore.
She said that while he's disappointed he didn't get a full pardon, he told her that could be dealt with another day by applying to the court to have the conviction annulled.
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 whose 18-year-old daughter saw him wearing a suit for the first time at Tuesday's hearing.
"I don't need people using me as a cause," Bird told the Associated Press recently. "I just want to be home with my family."
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.