Execution of Canadian on Death Row in Montana Halted

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – A judge in Helena on Monday halted the execution of the only known Canadian on death row in the United States, even though a date for the death has not been set.

The Missoulian reported that District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock halted the execution of Ronald Allen Smith, of Red Deer, Alberta. The execution date was supposed to be scheduled Wednesday by another district judge.

“To set an execution date — there’s no purpose in it because there’s not going to be an execution,” said Ron Waterman, the Helena attorney who successfully argued for the injunction.

He argued Montana’s method of lethal injection is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual and noted that the trailer used for executions at the Montana State Prison was moved earlier this year to make way for an addition. The addition isn’t finished, meaning the prison has no approved place for executions, he said.

Prison spokesman Bob Anez said last week the trailer easily could be moved back into place if necessary, but Sherlock wrote in the injunction that going through with the death sentence would “cause great and irreparable injury” to Smith.

Smith was convicted in 1983 of fatally shooting 24-year-old Harvey Mad Man and 20-year-old Thomas Running Rabbit. At the time of the 1982 deaths, Smith was 25 years old and had crossed the Canadian border on foot the previous day with two friends and a sawed-off .22-caliber rifle.

Prosecutors say he robbed the Browning cousins and shot them execution-style in the woods near East Glacier.

Smith pleaded guilty to two counts of deliberate homicide, as well as two counts of aggravated kidnapping. In February 1983, he was offered a plea agreement that called for a term of 110 years in prison, which he rejected in favor of a death sentence.

But Smith changed his mind in 1984 and has been fighting his death sentence ever since, arguing he had ineffective counsel. His appeal took the case to the Montana Supreme Court in 1986, which upheld the death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court declined last month to hear the case.

Browning resident Gabriel Grant, the victims’ uncle, said Monday he wasn’t surprised by the injunction, adding that the case was moving slowly because Mad Man and Running Rabbit were Native American members of the Blackfeet Nation.

“If this happened today, if a Canadian snuck a gun across the border and attacked and killed citizens of the United States … it would be considered close to terrorism and all of our major U.S. agencies would be on it,” he said.

If Waterman’s legal action fails to stop the execution, Smith’s last hope lies with clemency from Brian Schweitzer, Montana’s Democratic governor.

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