Canadian on Montana Death Row Seeks Clemency

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – A Canadian awaiting execution in Montana for killing two men in 1982 has filed clemency request that he hopes will ultimately lead to pardon.

Ronald A. Smith of Red Deer, Alberta, filed the request Wednesday with the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole, arguing he is now a far different person than at the time of the offense.

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

Smith at first asked to be executed and pleaded guilty to two counts of deliberate homicide, as well as two counts of aggravated kidnapping. But he later changed his mind and has been fighting the sentence.

Friends and family of the victims from the Blackfeet Indian Reservation have in the past asked the governor to reject any request from Smith for leniency. Schweitzer has never specifically said how he would handle such a request, although he has expressed support for the death penalty and told the family members in 2007 that he has “sworn to uphold the laws of Montana.”

Helena attorney Greg Jackson, representing Smith, said he is optimistic the governor would agree to either pardon Smith, or at least commute the death penalty portion of the sentence in favor of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Jackson said Schweitzer will give it a fair review.

“I think it is very obvious that Gov. Schweitzer is his own man,” Jackson said. “We know he will give full consideration and our hope is he will decide in Mr. Smith’s favor.”

The parole board will hold a hearing on Smith’s request and make a recommendation to Schweitzer.

“After the board considers the application, it recommends that clemency be granted or denied,” said Schweitzer spokeswoman Sara Elliott. “The governor is not bound by any recommendation of the board, but the Governor will review the record of the hearing and the board’s recommendation before granting or denying clemency.”

The Canadian government also now formally supports clemency for Smith.

The request for executive clemency says that Smith was taking LSD and drinking prior to the crime. It points out the first plea agreement for prosecutors did not include the death penalty, and would have provided for the possibility of parole by now. Smith rejected it, and instead later pleaded guilty and sought the death penalty.

It also says that Smith came from a physically abusive home, but has spent his time in prison reconciling with his father. The application says that Smith has “made great strides in his rehabilitation” in prison and hasn’t had a major incident in 20 years. It says psychological testing has found that he has good coping skills and is now a low risk for being dangerous.

“In the face of the harsh circumstances of being locked down in virtual insolation for 28 years, he has nonetheless made a genuine attempt to live a life that exhibits remorse, rehabilitation, a changed heart and mind, and a potential for good,” Jackson wrote in the application.

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.

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