WASHINGTON – The tobacco farmer dubbed "Tractor Man" was abruptly re-sentenced Wednesday by a federal judge who felt he had no choice following an unexpected Supreme Court ruling last week.
"His release is imminent," said A.J. Kramer, the public defender representing Dwight Ware Watson (search) of Whitakers, N.C. Watson's elated brother, George Watson, told The Associated Press that he could be released within two weeks.
Watson, 51, drove his tractor into a pond on the National Mall on March 17, 2003, and began a 47-hour standoff with police, claiming to have "organophosphate bombs." Streets were closed and traffic backed up for miles over four consecutive rush hours until Watson surrendered.
Watson was convicted of making a false threat to detonate explosives, and destruction of federal property. On June 23, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson (search) sentenced Watson to six years in prison.
But the following day, the Supreme Court ruled that only juries — not judges — could lengthen prison terms beyond the maximum set forth in state guidelines. Although the high court decision applied only to Washington state, Jackson felt that what he did in sentencing Watson was wrong.
"The Supreme Court has told me that what I did a week ago was plainly illegal," Jackson said in court Wednesday as Watson sat quietly.
It was a far cry from the first sentencing, when Jackson told Watson, "You did terrify the people of this city," and characterized Watson's actions as "an illegitimate attempt to justify a legitimate grievance."
Watson, a down-and-out tobacco farmer, was protesting against changes in state and federal tobacco policy, and the $200 billion multistate tobacco settlement (search), both of which he blamed his problems on. The tractor incident began the same day that the Department of Homeland Security elevated the terror threat level to orange — three days before the start of the U.S. led war in Iraq.