Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Outgoing Montana governor declines to commute death sentence of Canadian Ronald Smith

Montana's outgoing governor did not grant clemency to Canadian death row inmate Ronald Smith during his final hours in office.

Smith, 55, had hoped that Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat who finished his 2nd term Monday, would put an end to Smith's fight to avoid execution for the 1982 murders of 2 young Montana men.

The move doesn't mean that the former resident of Red Deer, Alta., will be executed any time soon. The clemency application now becomes the responsibility of new state governor Steve Bullock.

"I'm somewhat surprised and a little bit disappointed," Ron Waterman, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, said.

"It's just sort of unfinished work. The petition now just shifts over to the new governor to see whether or not he would be inclined to act on the petition."

Waterman believes that Schweitzer may have had 2nd thoughts about dealing with the clemency request because of an outstanding civil action involving the liberties union.

Last September, Montana District Court Judge Jeffrey Sherlock put all executions on hold by declaring the state's method of execution unconstitutional, cruel and inhumane.

Sherlock indicated the state legislature needs to rejig statutes to bring the execution protocol in line with Montana's constitution - something the Attorney General's office is hoping to avoid. The state has persuaded Sherlock to hear arguments that it be allowed to make changes to its execution procedures without going to the legislature.

"I think the governor may have just simply looked at it and said, 'Why should I do something that does not require my immediate action? Doing nothing could pull this out another 4 or 5 years,'" said Waterman.

Smith's longtime lawyer, Don Vernay, said he was "sickened" that Schweitzer decided to take the easy way out.

"He took the politician's way out," said Vernay, who practises law in Albuequerue, N.M.

Vernay is particularly angry that Schweitzer's office contacted Smith's legal team 2 weeks ago asking for a letter from Smith guaranteeing that he would not appeal his conviction. That led to the belief that clemency was going to be granted.

Smith, 55, has been on death row since he admitted to shooting Thomas Mad Man Jr. and Harvey Running Rabbit near East Glacier, Mont., in 1982. He originally asked for the death penalty, but soon after changed his mind and has been fighting for his life ever since.

He issued an emotional apology at his clemency hearing last May in which he said he was "horrendously sorry" for his actions.

His apology fell on deaf ears. One by one, family members demanded that Smith be executed.

But others have expressed support for Smith's request, including his daughter, Carmen Blackburn, and Jessica Crawford, Running Rabbit's daughter and Mad Man's cousin.

The Canadian government grudgingly sent a letter in December 2011 to the Montana Board of Pardons and Paroles asking that clemency be granted. It followed up last month with a letter to Schweitzer from Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

That letter was almost identical to the 1st one and made it clear that the Federal Court had ordered the government to support Smith's case for clemency.

"The government of Canada requests that you grant clemency to Mr. Smith on humanitarian grounds," wrote Baird. "The government of Canada does not sympathize with violent crime and this letter should not be construed as reflecting a judgment on Mr. Smith's conduct."

Source: The Canadian Press, January 8, 2013

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