Fate of Canadian on death row left to incoming U.S. governor
Ronald Smith is awaiting the death penalty in Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, Montana, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012. (Bill Graveland / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Tuesday, January 8, 2013 7:58PM EST
HELENA -- Gov. Steve Bullock's office isn't saying how the new governor will deal with the pending request for clemency from a Canadian citizen who remains on Montana's death row for the 1982 slaying of two Native American men.
Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer left office Monday without making any decision on Smith's high-profile case. The former governor told The Associated Press that his replacement has all the paperwork necessary to evaluate the clemency request.
That leaves the high-profile case in the hands of Bullock.
Family members of the victims, along with the Blackfeet Tribal Council, have pushed for enforcement of the death penalty. They have argued clemency for Smith could show less value is placed on the life of Native Americans when they are killed.
Smith's family has countered that Smith is now a different man who they value, and who has become an important part of the prison community.
The Montana Parole Board responded last May shortly after a lengthy hearing, arguing that "justice is best served" by continuing with the execution. They unanimously recommended that the governor reject the request and continue with the execution.
Smith is asking for life in prison without the possibility of parole instead of the death sentence, currently only stalled amid separate legal arguments over the constitutionality of the state's lethal injection protocols. Smith argues his original 1983 trial for shooting two Blackfeet cousins -- in which he asked for and received the death penalty -- was botched.
Smith was 24 years old when he marched the two young men into the woods just off U.S. Highway 2 near Marias Pass and shot them both in the head with a .22-calibre rifle. He has said he was out of his mind on drugs and alcohol.
Smith has asked the governor in his petition to look beyond the horrific killings of Harvey Mad Man, 23, and Thomas Running Rabbit, 20, and consider that he is now a different person.
Smith's backers also argue it is unfair that he be executed after an accomplice was paroled long ago. Rodney Munro took a plea deal on the charges and avoided the death penalty, while Smith did not.
The Canadian government, after some internal policy changes, has asked Montana to spare Smith's life.
Bullock, the former attorney general, will be evaluating a familiar case. Bullock just left an office that fought while he was there to uphold the conviction and sentence.
Bullock's new office, two days into his administration, isn't tipping its hand. Spokesman Kevin O'Brien would only confirm that the case is still pending.
Schweitzer said Monday after leaving office that he considered the Parole Board a recommendation to keep the sentence intact "a recommendation to do nothing."
"I decided not to decide. There wasn't a recommendation. There was nothing really in front of me," Schweitzer said.
Schweitzer noted that the victims' families had personally told him they felt that the death penalty was the only way they could get closure.