6 Canadians who faced death row in U.S.

Alberta-born Ronald Smith is expected to plead for his life Wednesday morning in Montana, where he has been sentenced to die. He's one of just a handful of Canadians who have been on death row in the U.S. over the last 60 years.

Alberta's Ronald Smith is one of a small group of Canadians to be sentenced to die

Ronald Smith, left, speaks with his lawyer Greg Jackson in February, discussing his request for clemency from the Montana death penalty. It's rare for Canadians to face execution in the U.S. (Matt Gouras/Associated Press)

Ronald Smith, set to be executed in Montana, is a rare case of a Canadian sentenced to die in America. He is one of only six Canadians known to have been on death row in the U.S. over the last 60 years.

The Alberta-born Smith is expected to plead for his life Wednesday morning in Montana, where he has been sentenced to die by lethal injection for murdering two men while he hitchhiked across the state in 1982.

Smith's two-day clemency hearing before the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole begins at 9 a.m. MT in Deer Lodge, north of Butte. It's one of his last chances to stave off execution, after the U.S. Supreme Court turned down his legal appeal in 2010.

Smith, 54, from Red Deer, Alta., is one of only two Canadians currently facing execution in the U.S. He's been on death row since 1982, far longer than his compatriot Robert Bolden, who was sentenced to die in 2006.

In 2007, the Canadian government controversially changed its long-standing policy of routinely seeking clemency for Canadian citizens who were sentenced to death in other countries. 

Here's a look at other Canadians who have been on death row in the U.S., or otherwise stared down possible execution, over the last 60 years:

Robert L. Bolden

  • Crime: Murder-robbery on Oct. 7, 2002
  • Convicted: 2006
  • Result: Habeas corpus petition filed; expected to take years to resolve

Besides Ronald Smith, Bolden is the only other Canadian on death row in the U.S. He was convicted in May 2006 for murdering a security guard at a Bank of America branch in St. Louis during a botched robbery attempt.

Because it involved an attempted robbery of a federally insured bank, the case was tried as a federal crime, for which the then U.S. attorney general, John Ashcroft, had to approve seeking the death penalty. Only three federal inmates have been executed since the resumption of the U.S. federal death penalty in 1988.

Bolden, 48, was born in Canada but moved to the U.S. when he was young and also has American citizenship. One of the submissions in his current legal appeal is that he did not have access to assistance from Canadian consular officials after he was arrested and charged — assistance that Canada usually provides to all its citizens, regardless of whether they hold another passport, but which the U.S. has often failed to tell prisoners is available.

Joseph Stanley Faulder

A demonstrator opposed to capital punishment holds a picture of Joseph Faulder outside his execution in Huntsville, Texas, on June 17, 1999. (LM Otero/Associated Press)
  • Crime: Murder-robbery on July 8, 1975, in Texas
  • Convicted: 1981
  • ResultExecuted by lethal injection on June 17, 1999, at age 61

Faulder is the only Canadian to be executed in the U.S. in the so-called modern era, since the Supreme Court allowed states to resume administering the death penalty in 1976. He was found guilty of brutally beating and stabbing a wealthy, 75-year-old matriarch while trying to rob her in 1975.

Faulder, from Jasper, Alta., was convicted twice for the murder — the first result was overturned because his confession was ruled inadmissible by an appeal court. Through it all, he was never told of his right under international law to contact the Canadian embassy in Washington.

Also notable in his case was that he was refused a commutation of his sentence by the then Texas governor, George W. Bush. The Canadian government and even the U.S. secretary of state had pleaded on Faulder's behalf.

Stanley Buckowski

  • Crime: Murder-burglary on Feb. 1, 1950
  • Result: Executed by gas chamber on May 9, 1952, at age 26

Buckowski, from Toronto, was tried along with his wife in the death of an 80-year-old Los Angeles woman. Prosecutors alleged the couple broke into her home and killed her with a shotgun.

Buckowski was convicted, but his wife — who contended that she had stayed outside while he entered the victim's home — was found not guilty. His appeals were denied, and he was executed at San Quentin prison in Marin County, Calif., in 1952.

Patrick James Jeffries

  • Crime: Murder-robbery in early 1983 near Port Angeles, Wash.
  • Convicted: Nov. 5, 1983
  • Result: Death sentence reduced to life in 1997

Jeffries was serving a 12-year sentence for robbery at a medium-security prison in British Columbia when he met and befriended Phillip and Inez Skiff of Washington state. When Jeffries was freed in January 1983, he went to live with them. Sometime around March of that year, he shot and killed them both, firing seven bullets into Phillip Skiff and 10 into Inez Skiff.

Jeffries snatched money, gold, weapons, a TV and other items from the Skiffs' home before fleeing for Canada, but he was caught in Wenatchee, Wash., tried and convicted of two counts of aggravated murder.

The jury sentenced him to death. In 1997, an appeal court ruled that there had been jury misconduct and his sentence was reduced to life in prison with no chance of parole.

Jeffries died in Washington State Penitentiary in April 2006 at age 71.

Michael Kelly Roberts

  • Crime: Murder-robbery on May 6, 1994
  • Convicted: June 11, 1997
  • Result: Death sentence reduced to life in September 2002

Michael Roberts of Pembroke, B.C., escaped from a Canadian prison in 1994 (the second time he had done so), fled across the U.S. border and launched into a brief spree of thefts and robberies with an accomplice that saw them kill Elijio (Eli) Cantu and steal his Chevrolet Blazer SUV.

He was caught that night, then tried and convicted in 1997, and spent five years on death row. His punishment was reduced to a life sentence without parole in 2002, after an appeal court found there had been errors in the trial judge's instructions to the jury.

Prosecutors backed down

In a couple other notable cases, Canadians who committed capital crimes in the U.S. were on track for execution, only to see prosecutors back down in favour of a life sentence:  

One version of events says Arizona prosecutors dropped their push to have Paul Pilipow of Melville, Sask., face the death penalty after Canada's consul in Los Angeles intervened in the case. (Arizona Department of Corrections)

Paul and Cherie Pilipow of Melville, Sask., were convicted of murdering 68-year-old Eloise Doyle in Arizona in July 1999. The Pilipows moved to Arizona the month before, but when Paul couldn't find work, the couple decided to steal a motorhome and drive it back to Canada. They killed Doyle, got behind the wheel of her motorhome and then ran her over several times in the middle of the desert before setting her body on fire.  

Prosecutors in notoriously draconian Maricopa County initially said they would seek the death penalty against Paul Pilipow, but just before the trial was to begin, they accepted a plea deal for the lesser sentence of life in prison without parole. Accounts differ as to what motivated the change, with some reports saying it was intervention by Canada's consul-general in Los Angeles and, in particular, a promise from him that Canada would not seek to have Pilipow transferred back to Canada to serve out his sentence.   

Glen Burns and Atif Rafay, both from B.C., were convicted of murdering Rafay's parents and sister at their home in Bellevue, Wash., in 1994. Prosecutors said the pair, who were 18 at the time, did it so they could cash in on an insurance policy and the sale of the home. After committing the crime, the teens fled back to Canada, but they were caught and arrested pending extradition.  

Authorities in Washington were initially adamant that they would seek the death penalty in the killings. But Burns and Rafay took their case to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled in 2001 that they could not be extradited unless U.S. officials provided assurances they wouldn't be executed if found guilty. Prosecutors renounced their death-penalty aims, and the men were sent south for trial.