ACLU: Executioners’ Training Should be Public Info

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Attorneys for death-row inmate Ronald Allen Smith asked a court Thursday to rule that the public should have access to information about the selection, qualifications and training of people who administer lethal injections in Montana.

Thursday’s motion for summary judgment was filed in state District Court in Helena. It came in a lawsuit filed a year ago — April 3, 2008 — by the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana on Smith’s behalf.

The motion asks the court to declare unconstitutional a state law that prohibits the release of information about state executioners.

The ACLU says the law violates the public’s right under the Montana Constitution to know how the state is choosing people to administer lethal injections and whether they are qualified.

“If you look at what has been happening with lethal injections … they’ve been subjected to challenges in a number of states. The process can go bad and result in cruel and unusual punishment to the individual,” said Helena lawyer Ron Waterman, one of the attorneys acting for Smith and the ACLU.

“There’s an increasing amount of concern among individuals who have watched these executions and seen some of them botched,” Waterman told The Associated Press.

Kevin O’Brien, a spokesman for the state Justice Department, said late Monday afternoon that they haven’t yet seen the court filing.

Waterman said Thursday’s motion for summary judgment had nothing to do with recent action in the Montana Legislature defeating a bill to abolish the death penalty. The bill passed the Montana Senate but was tabled in the House Judiciary Committee.

But while Waterman said the timing was a coincidence, a statement released by the ACLU drew a connection between the legislative action and the court filing.

“If Montana continues to participate in state-endorsed executions, it is incumbent upon the state to open that process to public scrutiny,” the ACLU said.

Montana has two inmates on death row — Smith and William J. Gollehon — and has carried out three executions since reinstatement of the death penalty in the 1970s. The most recent was in 2006.

Smith, a Canadian citizen, was 24 in 1982 when he and two buddies from Red Deer, Alberta, were hitchhiking through Montana. They robbed two cousins who offered them a ride, and Smith shot both men through the head along U.S. Highway 2 near Marias Pass.

Gollehon, originally from Vancouver, Wash., was sentenced in March 1992 after he and another inmate beat fellow prisoner Gerald Pillegi to death with a baseball bat at the Montana State Prison.

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