DEER LODGE, Mont. – A petition asking the governor of Montana to spare the life of a Canadian on death row is being dusted off and given a fresh look this week.
Ronald Smith, who is originally from Red Deer, Alta., has been on death row since 1983 for fatally shooting Harvey Madman Jr. and Thomas Running Rabbit while he was high on LSD and alcohol near East Glacier, Mont.
The petition for clemency was given to former Gov. Brian Schweitzer four years ago but he chose not to deal with it before finishing his term in office.
His successor, Gov. Steve Bullock, has also not dealt with the thorny clemency issue. Now elected to his final term in office, Smith’s lawyers have officially requested Bullock take another look Smith’s case.
“Governor Schweitzer chose not to act on it … so it never went anywhere. It’s just been sitting on somebody’s desk gathering dust,” said Smith, 59, in an interview with The Canadian Press earlier this year.
“Given the new position of the Canadian government, I think it’s time to act on it.”
Members of Smith’s legal team have met with representatives of the Canadian consulate who have expressed their support for clemency.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion issued a statement earlier this year following a meeting with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights saying Canada opposes the death penalty and “will ask for clemency in each and every case, no exceptions.”
It’s a marked shift from the former Conservative government, which initially decided against seeking clemency for Smith or any other multiple murderer facing the death penalty in a democratic country.
A court ruling later forced the government to abandon the policy but Smith’s lawyer accused the Canadian government of “treachery” for its handling of the 2012 clemency hearing.
Lawyer Greg Jackson said he could file for another hearing but it’s unnecessary. Bullock could simply take all the material already on the record and make a decision on clemency, he said.
“There’s a full transcript of the hearing, there’s a whole videotape of the hearing. Everything is available to him that was available to the original board. Probably the easiest, the most economic thing would be for the present petition to be reviewed.”
Jackson said he had a couple of initial discussions with the governor’s staff four years ago but it never went anywhere.
All executions in Montana have been on hold since 2008 when a court fight began over the types of drugs used during the process.
“I think the fact is it’s been out of sight, out of mind,” he said. “I think the prevailing thought was there’s no immediate prospect of execution. There’s no reason to act.”
Smith thinks this is the best time to renew his efforts.
“It’s unlikely there’s going to be a death sentence after the legislative session anyway. It’s highly improbable they will keep it since they can’t use it. There’s no drugs available. There’s no other form of execution so I don’t see it continuing on,” he said.
“Given those factors I think now’s the time to go to the governor and say maybe it’s time to revisit this. I believe the Canadian government would be more than willing to take me back and take my butt the hell out of the country.”
While Smith may have an ally in the Canadian government, family members of his victims have lobbied for his death.
“The decisions he made, he has to pay for,” Running Rabbit’s son told Smith’s clemency hearing in 2012. “He had no mercy for my father – a person I have never met.”
Smith, who initially asked for and was granted the death penalty, later changed his mind and has been fighting execution ever since. Despite what appears to be a change of fortune, he’s not optimistic.
“After 34 years of doing this, that’s a no.”
– By Bill Graveland in Calgary.