NH Farmer Wins Early Release After Gun Sentence

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)
AP Photo/Jim Cole
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.

Bird's felony conviction for criminal threatening with a firearm remains on his record. He can no longer possess guns.

Corrections officials said Bird will be released from the Carroll County jail as soon as they have the official paperwork in hand, even if it's after the close of business hours.

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 daugther 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.

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. The crime carries a minimum, mandatory three-year prison sentence because a weapon was involved.

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, voice quavering with emotion.

Harris didn't attend the council hearing. A victim advocate told the council Harris feels "terrorized" by the number of people posting negative comments about her on the Internet.

The victim advocate didn't immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Wednesday.