Ronald Smith Clemency Hearing Today (Updated)
Ronald Smith, convicted double murderer, will speak today during an executive clemency hearing at the Powell County Courthouse in Deer Lodge. The hearing represents what will likely be his final opportunity to explain why his sentence should be commuted to life in prison instead of the death penalty.
Smith confessed to the 1982 killings of Thomas Running Rabbit and Harvey Mad Man, two young Blackfeet men who were murdered in the woods near Marias pass.
Smith and an accomplice, Rodney Munro forced the young men from their car, and shot them both in the head a few hundred yards off the side of US Highway 2.
Smith, Munro and a third man, Andre Fontaine had crossed into the United States from Canada illegally just prior to the murders.
The three men drank, played pool and socialized with Mad Man and Running Rabbit in a bar in East Glacier. Later, the Canadians were hitchhiking on the highway west toward Marias pass and were picked up by the Blackfeet men.
During the original court proceedings in 1983, Smith accepted full responsibility for the murders, telling the court he wanted to steal their car and feel "what it would feel like to kill someone". He rejected a plea agreement and instead requested the death penalty. He was sentenced to death in April, 1983.
Munro was sentenced to 60 years in prison for his part in the murders and has since been released.
A few weeks later, Smith changed his mind and has been appealing his death sentence ever since. He is the only Canadian citizen on death row in the United States. Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976.
According to Fern Osler, executive director of the Montana Board of Pardons and parole, "Mr. Smith has exhausted his appeals. He has sent in an application for executive clemency. He is asking for the board to relieve him of the death penalty in lieu of life in prison without parole. That's what the board will be deciding tomorrow."(Wednesday, May 2)
Only Governor Brian Schweitzer can grant clemency, the Board will simply make a recommendation to the Governor. Once the hearing is complete, the Board will have 30 days to make a decision and present their recommendation. "The Governor does not have any time limit on issuing a decision" explained the parole boards chief legal council, Diane Koch. "The governor can make a decision in whatever time the governor wants."
Witnesses scheduled to testify in the hearing include 16 witnesses on Smith's behalf and 22 witnesses for the state and on behalf of the Running Rabbit and Mad Man families. Smith is scheduled to speak during the proceedings.
Parole hearings are normally held in the prison itself, but given the amount of interest in this particular case, Montana State Prison Warden Leroy Kirkegard said.
The Board of Pardons and Paroles has received approximately 400 letters in recent month regarding this hearing. The majority of those letters were written in opposition to the death penalty. However, the purpose of this hearing is specific to Smith's own death penalty sentence and is limited to the consideration of whether any extraordinary, mitigating or extenuating circumstances exist that would warrant commutation.
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Lawyers for the only Canadian on death row in the United States are telling Montana parole officials that he deserves clemency because he is a changed man.
Ronald Smith is asking a parole board to recommend that Gov. Brian Schweitzer commute his death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 1983 murders of two cousins.
The board said it expects to issue its findings in three weeks.
Helena attorney Ron Waterman urged the board to grant clemency to demonstrate to inmates that good behavior matters.
A prison doctor testified Wednesday that Smith has been a model prisoner who does not exhibit the anti-social behavior he did years ago.