Canadian on death row apologizes to victims' families

A Canadian on death row in the United States apologized to the families of his victims on Wednesday as he pleaded for his life before the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole.

But Ronald Smith finds no forgiveness at Montana clemency hearing

A Canadian on death row in the United States apologized to the families of his victims on Wednesday as he pleaded for his life before the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole.

However, Ronald Smith — who hoped to persuade the three-member panel to urge Gov. Brian Schweitzer to commute the death sentence for a double murder to life in prison without the possibility of parole  — found no forgiveness among the families who suffered because of his crimes.

"I do understand the pain and suffering I've put you through," Smith told the families. "It was never my intent to cause any suffering for anybody. I wish there was some way I could take it back. I can't. All I can do is hope to move forward with my life and become a better person."

A visibly angry Thomas Running Rabbit, son of one of the victims, said he would seek justice for the father he never knew until "Ronald Smith's last breath."

"The decisions he made he has to pay for," Running Rabbit told the board. "He had no mercy for my [father], a person I have never met." He then pointed at Smith and said: "I'm Thomas Running Rabbit. I do not fear you."

A cousin, Camille Wells, called Smith "an animal,"  and an uncle, William Talks About, told the board the families had already waited too long  for justice: "Ronald Smith needs to be executed. Thirty years is too long."

The governor's decision is expected the week of May 21.

Cold-blooded crime

Smith, 54, ,who is originally from Red Deer, Alta., has been on death row since 1982, after he and accomplice Rodney Munro marched cousins Thomas Mad Man Jr. and Harvey Running Rabbit into the woods near East Glacier, Mont., in order to steal their car. Munro stabbed one of them and Smith shot them both in the head.

It was a cold-blooded crime. They wanted to steal the men's car, but Smith also said at the time he wanted to know what it was like to kill someone.

Smith originally asked for the death penalty and turned down a plea deal that would have spared his life. Munro accepted the deal and has since been paroled and is living in Canada.

Smith has exhausted his legal appeals and, should he be denied clemency, faces the death penalty once a lawsuit over the method used by the state is cleared up.

Earlier in the day, relatives described Smith as a thoughtful man who remains engaged with his family through visits, phone calls and letters to his sister, daughter, grandchildren and nieces and nephews.

His sister, Rita Duncan, said two wrongs don't make a right and urged the panel to grant her brother clemency from execution. Smith broke down when Duncan read a letter he had written to his dying mother last year.

"I am sorry to sound selfish. I don't know what I would do without him in my life. There would be a void that could not be filled," Duncan said. "If this was your son, your brother, your father, your grandfather, your uncle, who was in this predicament, wouldn't you want grace and mercy shown to him when he has done everything in his power to change and become the man he is today?"

His sister turned to about a dozen or so members of the victims' families and their supporters and said the murders were a tragedy on both sides. "Our hearts have broken with yours over the last 29 years," she said.

Smith's daughter, Carmen Blackburn, said her dad was like any other and was always supportive of her and his two grandchildren.

Psychologist Dr. Bowman Smelko told the hearing Smith's mental health has dramatically improved during his time in prison. He described the Canadian as a model prisoner and said he does not exhibit the anti-social behaviour he did decades ago.

The board has received a number of letters backing clemency for Smith, including those from the Canadian government, federal interim Liberal Party Leader Bob Rae, the Council of Europe and Amnesty International.

Thomas Running Rabbit IV speaks during Ronald Smith's clemency hearing in Deer Lodge, Mont.,on Wednesday. Michael Gallacher/Associated Press

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press