Only Canadian on U.S. death row gets clemency hearing

A clemency hearing has been set for two days in early May for the only Canadian on death row in the United States: Ronald Smith, originally from Red Deer, Alta.
Ronald Smith, the only Canadian on death row in the United States, is shown in this June 30, 2008 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Graveland

A clemency hearing has been set for two days in early May for the only Canadian on death row in the United States.

Ronald Smith, 54, originally from Red Deer, Alta., has been on death row for the murders of Thomas Running Rabbit and Harvey Mad Man Jr. 30 years ago near East Glacier, Mont.

The Montana Board of Pardons and Parole has set aside May 2-3 for the clemency hearing in Deer Lodge, near the federal penitentiary where Smith has spent the last three decades of his life.

"The hearing will be conducted as a parole hearing. Witness testimony will be submitted but witnesses will not be subject to cross-examination," Smith's lawyer, Greg Jackson, said in an email to The Canadian Press.

"The board may, however, question the witnesses."

Jackson said there will be initial arguments on the first day and the board will take public comments on the second. Each statement, similar to a victim impact statement, will be limited to three minutes.

Victim's daughter in favour of clemency

Smith's daughter and sister are expected to make a plea for his life.

Jessica Crawford, Running Rabbit's daughter, told The Canadian Press before Christmas that she will ask the board to recommend clemency."I think he should just remain locked away. That's my feelings for it now," Crawford said.

"I just feel it is more of a punishment for him that he just sit out his years."

The Canadian government has also requested that Smith's life be spared on humanitarian grounds, while at the same time condemning his actions.

The board will make a recommendation, but the final decision will fall to Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Smith requested death penality

Smith pleaded guilty to two charges of deliberate homicide and two charges of aggravated kidnapping in February 1983 and requested the death penalty. He rejected a plea deal offered by prosecutors which would have given him life in prison.

He later changed his mind and asked the District Court to reconsider the death penalty. That has led to three decades of legal wrangling.

Smith was 24 and taking LSD and drinking when he and two friends met up with Running Rabbit and Mad Man near East Glacier. Smith and Rodney Munro marched the two men into the woods where Munro stabbed one of the victims and Smith shot both of them.

Munro accepted a plea deal, was eventually transferred to a Canadian prison and has completed his sentence.

Lawyer says Smith has a 'changed heart'

His clemency application says Smith is a changed man.

"In the face of the harsh circumstances of being locked down in virtual isolation 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," reads the document prepared by lawyers Jackson and Don Vernay.

"We request that you consider and grant this application and commute Mr. Smith's sentence from death to life without parole."

Smith's lawyers say his drug and alcohol use impaired his judgment. They also say he received poor advice from his lawyer at the time.

"As a result of the combination of his guilt over the offences, his virtual isolation in a foreign country without consular assistance and the deplorable actions of his trial attorney, he instead chose to plead guilty and requested the death penalty," argue Jackson and Vernay.

"Upon being placed in a less isolated environment, he immediately realized both the foolishness and impulsiveness of his actions and sought ... the original sentence offered by the state of Montana, but the state has adamantly refused to consider his request."