Death row Canadian says Harper government reneged on offer

Lawyers for convicted double killer Ronald Smith are accusing the Canadian government of reneging on an offer to speak on his behalf at a hearing in Montana to determine whether he will get the death penalty or clemency.

Consulate official attended clemency hearing but left without speaking to panel

Convicted murderer Ronald Smith is escorted into a courtroom for a clemency hearing at Powell County District Court on Wednesday in Deer Lodge, Mont. Smith, of Red Deer, Alta., is hoping to have his death sentence commuted. (Michael Gallacher/The Missoulian/Associated Press )

Lawyers for convicted double killer Ronald Smith are accusing the Canadian government of reneging on an offer to speak on his behalf at a hearing in Montana to determine whether he will get the death penalty or clemency.

The Harper government offered only tepid support for Smith's plea for clemency with its initial response and made it clear there would be no one making a presentation at the hearing in Montana on Wednesday.

But Smith's lawyers were excited on Monday when they received news that Marie-Eve Lamy, a consul at the Canadian Consulate General in Denver, was going to read a statement on behalf of the Harper government.

Lamy attended Smith's clemency hearing Wednesday morning and was added as a last-minute witness for Smith's defence team.

But in the afternoon, Lamy was gone, which prompted lawyer Don Vernay to read the copy he had of her statement into the official court record.

"We were really somewhat surprised and she said the Government of Canada wants me to read this," he said, holding a copy of her statement.

"Then this morning she comes up and says, 'I just heard from headquarters that they don't want me to read this.' They want her to read the original one instead. She said to me, 'This is what they want and what do you want?' I said nothing. I said, 'Thank you very much,' and let her go her way."

The original letter, signed by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in December 2011, was short and to the point.

"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," reads the letter.

"The Government of Canada ... requests that you grant clemency to Mr. Smith on humanitarian grounds."


Greg Jackson, Smith's lawyer for 25 years, didn't mince words about what he called an unexplainable change once again in the Canadian government's position. 

"It's been treachery. It's almost Shakespearean in nature ... They still supported clemency but they withdrew their enthusiastic support," he said.

"It's incomprehensible. It's been devastating to the family, it's been devastating to Ron particularly when they're going around the world now where they're enthusiastically throwing support to other Canadians facing death in other countries."

The letter read in court said Lamy was providing testimony at the hearing on behalf of the Canadian government.

"The Government of Canada is confident that the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole will carefully review the case before you today concerning Mr. Ronald Smith, a Canadian citizen."

The letter, although not a glowing endorsement, was considerably more enthusiastic than the original.

"Mr. Smith has served 29 years in prison for his crime and he has expressed remorse for his actions. The Government of Canada is seeking clemency for Mr. Smith on humanitarian grounds."

The Department of Foreign Affairs provided a copy of the letter, but refused to say why Lamy had left the hearing.

An official familiar with the case said the government is not sympathizing with or condoning Smith's actions in any way and that they wrote the letter because the federal court ordered them to support Smith's request for clemency.

Support under previous government

Jackson said Smith had enjoyed good support from Canada until Harper's Conservative Party government was elected. Now he doesn't know what to think.

"I just don't understand it. I guess they claim that because this is a civilized country we have due process," he said with a shrug.

"But regardless, a stance against the death penalty should be universal as far as the Canadian government is concerned. How do they pick and choose?," Jackson said.

Smith, 54, has been on death row ever since he admitted to shooting Thomas Mad Man Jr. and Harvey Running Rabbit 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 is asking the board to recommend his death sentence be commuted.

After yesterday's hearing, the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole intends to release its recommendation on clemency the week of May 21.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer will have the final say.

with files from CBC News