Schweitzer: No Deal to Commute Ronald Smith’s Death Sentence

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – There was no deal on the table to commute the sentence of a Canadian on death row in Montana, and recent reports to the contrary are just “Canadian domestic politics,” Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Tuesday.

The governor’s comments follow reports by a Canadian news agency that he told a top Canadian consular official in February 2007 that he was prepared to consider commuting Ronald Smith’s sentence — and transferring the convicted killer to a Canadian prison — with conditions.

According to Canwest News Service, the potential deal was outlined in a “briefing document” prepared in November for Rob Nicholson, Canada’s justice minister.

But Schweitzer said Tuesday there was no deal.

“Nothing was put on the table, nor did I offer anything,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The governor said officials with the previous Canadian administration made it clear to him that they were “uncomfortable with a Canadian on death row,” and started talking to him about commuting Smith’s sentence before he was even sworn in.

“I listened to a lot of folks, and I explained to them, this isn’t something the governor of Montana can unilaterally do,” Schweitzer said.

In Montana, requests for commutation are made after an execution date is set and must be filed with the state Board of Pardons and Parole. The board then conducts a public hearing and makes a recommendation to the governor.

“I made it very clear to them (Canadian officials) that the Board of Pardons and Parole would have to be the one to make a recommendation before I could do anything,” Schweitzer said.

Smith, who was born in Alberta, was sentenced to death for the 1982 shooting deaths of cousins Harvey Mad Man, 24, and Thomas Running Rabbit, 20, both of Browning.

Canada doesn’t impose the death penalty. But its Conservative government announced in October it would no longer seek clemency for Smith or any other Canadian facing execution in a democratic country — a decision that was criticized by all three of Canada’s federal opposition parties. Smith filed a lawsuit over the reversal in the Federal Court of Canada the following month.

According to Canwest News Service, a briefing document prepared to help Nicholson field questions about Canada’s foreign policy shift said Canadian consular officials had sought clemency for Smith “on humanitarian grounds” since 1997.

“In February 2007, the Governor of Montana indicated to our Consul General that they were willing to consider commuting Mr. Smith’s sentence so he could be transferred back to Canada, but that they would want some type of guarantee that he would spend at least five years in prison in Canada should a transfer occur,” the document said.

But Schweitzer said the discussions never got that far — and have since ceased.

Asked what he made of the report, the governor said: “I think that this is Canadian domestic politics. … It’s conservatives and liberals going back and forth.”

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