WASHINGTON – The tobacco farmer (search) dubbed "Tractor Man," who created chaos by crashing his tractor into a pond on the National Mall, was released from jail Thursday night.
Dwight Watson (search), 51, shouted to reporters as he walked from the District of Columbia Jail to a waiting car, and he appeared to be saying, "Praise the Lord." Watson then got into the back of a tan Honda with Maryland license plates, flashed a peace sign through the window, and was driven off by a man and a woman.
"If we were ecstatic yesterday, we are on cloud nine today," Watson's brother George told The Associated Press by cell phone as he headed from Durham, N.C., to Washington on Thursday. A judge had drastically reduced Dwight Watson's sentence Wednesday.
"He will have to see his probation officer on Friday," said George Watson. His brother was expected to stay with a longtime friend Thursday night, and the family hoped to have him back in Whitakers, N.C., by this weekend for a reunion with his mother and a Fourth of July celebration with friends and relatives.
"Everybody in town is grinning from ear to ear," George Watson said.
On March 17, 2003, Watson drove his tractor into a pond at Constitution Gardens on the Mall. He told police he had "organophosphate bombs" in a metal box mounted on a trailer he was towing.
The farmer began a standoff that lasted 47 hours, tying up traffic in downtown Washington and adjacent northern Virginia.
On June 23, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson (search) sentenced Watson to six years in prison, telling him, "The city regarded you as a one-man weapon of mass destruction."
But on Wednesday, Jackson reduced the sentence to just 16 months, most of which Watson had already served. Jackson said he felt obliged after the Supreme Court ruled on June 24 that only juries — not judges — can lengthen prison terms beyond the maximum set out in state sentencing guidelines.
Prosecutors filed an emergency motion to stay the re-sentencing. But in a written decision Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said prosecutors have "not satisfied the stringent standards required for a stay pending appeal."
The U.S. Attorney's Office still has a notice of appeal pending, but must decide whether to pursue that. No paperwork has been filed and no court dates set.
For more than a century, Watson's family grew tobacco on as much as 1,500 acres of North Carolina farmland. At the time of his arrest, Watson was farming just a few dozen acres and was threatened with foreclosure. He blamed his problems on changes in state and federal tobacco policy, and the $200 billion multistate tobacco settlement.
"We still have a tough row to hoe, but after the holiday weekend I'm hoping Dwight will be ready to get busy saving the farm," George Watson said.