By Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - 0 Comments
CALGARY – Normally, the lawyer for a Canadian on death row in Montana would…
CALGARY – Normally, the lawyer for a Canadian on death row in Montana would not be happy in limbo.
But Ron Waterman, lead counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, is gaining confidence that his lawsuit challenging the way the state carries out its executions could end up with a positive ending for Ronald Smith.
Smith has been facing death in a small prison cell in Deer Lodge, Mont., for 30 years. He refused a plea bargain in 1983 that would have seen him avoid death row for killing two Montana men, but soon changed his mind and has been fighting his execution ever since.
He has all but run out of legal options. A request for clemency is currently before Montana’s governor.
By The Canadian Press - Monday, January 7, 2013 at 5:17 AM - 0 Comments
CALGARY – Hope the outgoing governor of Montana will grant a last minute reprieve…
CALGARY – Hope the outgoing governor of Montana will grant a last minute reprieve for Canadian death row inmate Ronald Smith is fading fast as Brian Schweitzer spends his last few hours in office.
Smith, 55, and his legal team had hoped Schweitzer would grant clemency in one of his final acts in office before his successor, Steve Bullock, is sworn in as Montana`s new governor later today.
One of Smith’s lawyers, Don Vernay, had hoped to hear something sooner rather than later.
“It ain’t over til it’s over,” said Vernay, in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press late Sunday night.
“We’ve still got a few hours. All we can do is just keep waiting and hoping.”
By The Canadian Press - Monday, December 17, 2012 at 8:12 PM - 0 Comments
CALGARY – The Canadian government has sent a letter to Montana’s governor requesting that…
CALGARY – The Canadian government has sent a letter to Montana’s governor requesting that he spare the life of death row inmate Ronald Smith.
The Dec. 10 letter from Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird to Montana’s outgoing Gov. Brian Schweitzer is almost identical to one sent to the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole a year ago prior to the Alberta man’s clemency hearing. It makes it clear that the Federal Court ordered the federal government to support Smith’s case for clemency.
“The government of Canada requests that you grant clemency to Mr. Smith on humanitarian grounds,” writes Baird. “The government of Canada does not sympathize with violent crime and this letter should not be construed as reflecting a judgment on Mr. Smith’s conduct.”
Smith has been on death row since admitting he murdered Thomas Running Rabbit and Harvey Madman Jr. near East Glacier, Mont., in 1982.
The Harper government initially refused to back Smith’s calls for clemency, saying he was convicted in a democratic country. But the Federal Court ruled Ottawa must follow a long-standing practice of lobbying on behalf of Canadians sentenced to death in other countries.
One of Smith’s lawyers, Don Vernay, wasn’t sure why the government sent the second letter to Schweitzer. A spokesman for Baird’s office responded to questions by reiterating the government’s position in the letter.
“They just wanted to, I guess, put their two cents in which didn’t really say too much, did it? It’s the same lukewarm letter,” Vernay said in an interview with The Canadian Press on Monday.
“I guess they just want to go on the record because they’re probably like everybody else wondering what’s going on here? ‘We should make sure we get on the record just to appease the masses in Canada who are against the death penalty.’”
The Montana Board of Pardons and Parole recommended against granting clemency to Smith. The matter is now in the hands of Schweitzer, a two-term Democrat, who is to officially leave office in a matter of weeks.
Schweitzer hasn’t commented since the clemency hearing, but earlier indicated he didn’t want to leave a decision up to his successor. He did talk about death penalty cases in an interview with The Canadian Press last year.
“You’re not talking to a governor who is jubilant about these things,” he said from his office in Helena. “It feels like you’re carrying more than the weight of an Angus bull on your shoulders.”
Vernay said he remains hopeful, but is disappointed that Schweitzer still hasn’t met personally with Smith.
“I hope that he gets a chance to meet Mr. Smith before he does decide whether to uphold the recommendation of the board,” Vernay said.
“We’re a little disappointed that he hasn’t met with our client. The Smith family came down here to meet with him. We’d all like to hear something one way or the other for everybody involved.”
Smith, 55, and an accomplice were both high on drugs when they marched Running Rabbit and Mad Man Jr. into the woods and shot them in the head. It was a cold-blooded crime. They wanted to steal the men’s car, but Smith also said he wanted to know what it was like to kill someone.
He had been taking 30 to 40 hits of LSD and consuming between 12 and 18 beers a day at the time. He refused a plea deal that would have seen him avoid death row and spend the rest of his life in prison. Three weeks later, he pleaded guilty. He asked for and was given a death sentence.
Smith later had a change of heart and has since had a number of execution dates set and then put off.
His execution remains in limbo because of a legal challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union on the methods Montana uses to carry out its lethal injections.
A ruling by Montana District Court Judge Jeffrey Sherlock in September declared the state’s executions unconstitutional and placed any future executions on hold. Sherlock is to hear arguments next year on whether the state can make changes to it protocols without going to the legislature for approval.
A three-day hearing has been scheduled starting July 22.
By Colby Cosh - Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 5:42 AM - 0 Comments
Aug. 4 will be the 30th anniversary of the double murder that put Albertan Ronald Smith on Death Row at Montana’s state prison near the city of Deer Lodge. “Death Row” is just a metaphor in this instance: Montana still has only two inmates awaiting execution, and they live among other maximum-security inmates at the prison. Smith has been, at times, mere weeks from his execution date. In my Alberta Report days, I remember discussing plans with other editors to have someone report on, and if possible, stand witness to, Smith’s demise.
Smith has long outlived that magazine now, and a few of the people who worked for it, too. But I am beginning to sense for the first time that Smith has a pretty good chance of dying in his prison bunk, rather than on a gurney. I know I’ll be pretty p.o.’ed if he outlasts me.
Smith has managed to attract increasing international interest in his professions of contrition==during the past few years, perhaps in part because of the controversy over the Canadian government’s refusal to help him with his clemency application. It would be amusing if the Conservative government had actually helped Smith’s cause, even slightly, by turning a deaf ear to his pleas. But what’s probably more important is the aid Smith is now getting from the American Civil Liberties Union’s Montana office. As Smith’s family goes to work on a popular Democratic state governor, the ACLU is presenting a strong challenge to the constitutionality of capital punishment in Montana.
If you have a morbid bent like mine, you may wish to peruse that challenge [PDF], which takes the bold form of a motion for summary judgment against the state’s execution protocol. The ACLU’s lawyers note that the state updated the protocol last year, but the technical manual continues to call for murderers to be put to death using the bizarre “triple cocktail”—a formula whose origins and rationale nobody really understands, and which is gradually being abandoned by other states in favour of the simpler one-drug method used by veterinarians to euthanize animals.
The actual statutes of Montana mention only two drugs, but that seems like a picky legal technicality. More important to Smith’s fate is the absence of humanitarian safeguards in the execution guidelines, an absence that persists in the new manual. The training and credentialing requirements for the people who would be killing Smith are specified very feebly. As the ACLU observes, the Supreme Court has set a fairly high procedural bar in death penalty cases. If Montana cannot afford to have a well-drilled and medically knowledgeable staff on call for executions, the motion suggests, then maybe it shouldn’t be doing them at all.
The real threat, of course, is not that Montana will have to recruit and develop an entire Death Squad for its two capital offenders. What’s more likely, even if the motion for summary judgment fails, is that the ACLU will win the right to a full and expensive hearing of its constitutional arguments, complete with expert testimony and lots of courtroom time. There’s a further risk, nay, a strong likelihood, that this hearing would probably end with a demand for an even more expensive rewrite of the state’s execution procedures book. (As a bonus, not one but two constitutions are involved here, and the state constitution of Montana has a different standard for “cruel and unusual punishment” than the federal law does.) The ACLU’s Ron Waterman more or less openly admits to CP’s Bill Graveland that he hopes Gov. Brian Schweitzer will take Smith’s age, maturation, and good behaviour into account and walk away from this potentially very obnoxious game.
It might provide the governor an additional reason to say at least there’s been litigation raised that questions the protocol, and this litigation is going to extend out for years and years, and it’s time to put this to bed.
On the other hand, Montana won’t be able to execute anybody at all until its execution manual is put to the judicial test. And there are still people around who very, very much want to see Ronald Smith die on that gurney.
By Colby Cosh - Friday, October 15, 2010 at 7:44 AM - 0 Comments
Reasonable people can disagree over whether Canadian murderer Ronald Allen Smith ought to die by poison in the state of Montana’s execution chamber. But can we please get the facts about his situation straight? The Federal Court did not unconditionally order the Canadian government to resume lobbying Montana for clemency on behalf of Smith. It is a very clear matter of law that a court can’t set foreign policy: as Justice Barnes wrote, “Decisions involving pure policy or political choices in the nature of Crown prerogatives are generally not amenable to judicial review because their subject-matter is not suitable to judicial assessment.”
What a court can review is whether there has been procedural fairness in the application of a policy, including an international-relations policy, to an individual. Barnes found that the government seemed to have changed its standing policy concerning clemency advocacy with suspicious, unjustifiable casualness. Ministers had sketched or even improvised an apparent new stance in press interviews, and on the floor of the Commons, but there was no evidence of any actual legislative activity behind the scenes accompanying this—there were, for example, no written directives to the diplomatic corps outlining the “new policy”, and certainly no warnings made to Smith and his lawyers.
Smith, as a Canadian citizen, does not enjoy any inherent permanent right to Canadian government assistance with a clemency application, but he is entitled to the benefit of a written, objective government policy concerning his situation. The government didn’t give him that; the choice it was presented with by the Federal Court was to either resume clemency lobbying or to explicitly frame a new policy and apply it fairly. Canadian governments are still free to behave as they like concerning Canadians facing execution abroad, as long as their behaviour is consistent with some guideline. That guideline now exists, and it implies that the answer to a request for future help may well be “Sorry, no.”
The policy is not being applied retroactively to Smith, who is again receiving consular assistance. But we are no longer a formally “abolitionist” state when it comes to capital punishment abroad. If you care about this issue, or you just have an itch to head south and randomly slaughter a couple of Americans, it’s important for you to understand that judges can’t make the identity of the government irrelevant in this respect. A vote for the Conservatives really is a vote for Conservative foreign policy.