- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 1, 2004

The farmer dubbed “Tractor Man” was released from jail last night, one day after a judge drastically reduced his sentence.

Dwight Ware Watson shouted to reporters as he walked from the D.C. 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,” brother George Watson, 58, told by cellular phone as he headed to the District from Durham, N.C., last evening.

“He will have to see his probation officer on Friday,” George Watson said. His brother was expected to stay with a longtime friend last night, and the family hoped to have him back in Whitakers, N.C., by the weekend for a reunion with his mother and an Independence Day celebration with friends and relatives.

“Everybody in town is grinning from ear to ear,” George Watson said.

Dwight Ware Watson, 51, brought the District to a standstill on March 17, 2003, when he drove his tractor into a pond at Constitution Gardens on the Mall. He told police that he had “organophosphate bombs” in a metal box mounted on a trailer he was towing.

The disgruntled tobacco farmer began a standoff that lasted 47 hours — tying up traffic downtown and in Northern Virginia through four rush hours. It was 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.

On June 23, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson sentenced Watson to six years in prison, telling him, “The city regarded you as a one-man weapon of mass destruction.”

But Wednesday, Judge Jackson reduced his initial sentence to 16 months, most of which Watson has served. Judge Jackson said he felt obliged after the Supreme Court ruled June 24 that only juries — not judges — can lengthen prison terms beyond the maximum set in state sentencing guidelines.

Prosecutors filed an emergency motion to stay the re-sentencing. But in a written decision yesterday, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia 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, he was farming 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, both of which have left many tobacco farmers destitute.

“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 yesterday.

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