MOULTONBOROUGH, N.H. -- Property and gun rights advocates have made a folk hero of Ward Bird, convicted and imprisoned for brandishing a handgun at a woman who trespassed on his remote hilltop land.
Their "Free Ward Bird" campaign has ignited support among townsfolk and strangers. Libertarian and tea party websites decry his fate: at least three years in prison. Protests and vigils are tweeted on Twitter and trumpeted on Facebook pages devoted to his case. Backers raise funds with $15 Italian buffet suppers and alt-bluegrass music and dancing.
Bird, married and the father of four children, hangs his hope for freedom on a pardon by Democratic Gov. John Lynch.
"I don't need people using me as a cause," Bird told The Associated Press. "I just want to be home with my family."
But a pardon is a rarity in New Hampshire. And Lynch, who hears Bird's case Jan. 19 with a five-member Executive Council, believes pardons are warranted "only under extraordinary circumstances or a gross miscarriage of justice." The governor doesn't vote on pardons -- he can only veto the council's vote to grant one.
Court records, testimony and interviews show conflicting accounts of how Bird, 49, wound up in the Carroll County Jail, reading seed catalogs and pining for fresh air and sunshine.
After two trials, Bird, a farmer, was convicted of criminal threatening with a handgun -- a charge that carries a mandatory minimum three-year sentence in this "Live Free or Die" state. The state Supreme Court upheld his conviction, and he was locked up Nov. 17.
Bird's case has generated outrage among lawmakers. Republican House Speaker William O'Brien last month took Lynch a petition signed by 117 state representatives.
"Any one of us has the right to tell a stranger to leave," O'Brien said.
He said that includes showing a gun to emphasize the request. He said the law used to lock up Bird needs to be revisited.