HELENA – The only Canadian on death row in the United States is asking the Montana Parole Board to instead let him live the rest of his life in prison.
Ronald A. Smith of Red Deer, Alberta, was sentenced to death in 1983, seven months after he marched cousins Harvey Mad Man, 23, and Thomas Running Rabbit, 20, into the woods just off U.S. 2 near Marias Pass and shot them both in the head with a .22-caliber rifle.
They had picked up Smith, who was partying his way around northern Montana with some friends. Smith, 24 at the time of the killings, originally sought the death penalty, spurning a plea deal that would have spared his life.
The board is scheduled to listen to testimony from more than two dozen witnesses in a hearing that could extend through Thursday. Smith, 54, is scheduled to testify himself.
A document inadvertently released by the board last month showed that parole board staff is recommending that Smith’s request be rejected. But the board says the staff letter was just a recommendation for them to consider as they look at the case.
After the hearing, the board will consider whether to recommend that Smith’s sentence be commuted to life in prison. The ultimate decision lies with Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
Schweitzer in the past has told the family of the victims that he will think of them, and their desire to see the death penalty carried out, in making any decision. He has also said he does not take lightly any decision to execute a man.
Smith argues he’s now a far different person than the out-of-control youth who took the lives of two young Blackfeet Indian men. Smith has said he was heavily intoxicated that day and doesn’t have a strong recollection of the men he killed.
Smith has exhausted his legal appeals and faces the death penalty once a lawsuit over the method used by the state is cleared up.
The Canadian government, which does not believe in capital punishment, had initially refused to support Smith, saying he had been convicted in a democratic country. It now formally supports clemency for Smith, in accordance with a long-standing policy of seeking clemency for Canadians sentenced to death in foreign lands.
Smith says he doesn’t expect the lukewarm support will have much bearing on the case.
The Blackfeet Tribal Council, and most of the family members of the victim from that area, have spoken out in favor of carrying out the death penalty.
The Montana attorney general’s office is also defend the original conviction.
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