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Death row inmate’s attorney calls decision ‘outrageous’

By Katie Oyan
Helena, Montana (AP) 11-07

Canada’s decision to end its long-standing federal policy of seeking clemency for Canadians facing the death penalty in the United States leaves Ronald A. Smith “without a very valuable ally,” his attorney said during November.

Smith, of Red Deer, Alberta, is one of two people on death row in Montana and the only Canadian on death row in the United States.

His case gained attention during October after Gov. Brian Schweitzer said officials from Canada, which does not have a death penalty, had contacted him informally about commuting Smith’s sentence several times in the past few years. Following those reports, Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs announced during early November that it would no longer seek clemency “in cases in democratic countries, like the United States, where there has been a fair trial.”

The news was a “shot out of the blue,” said Greg Jackson, one of two attorneys representing Smith.

“We are still in the process of trying to sort out what has happened and why,” Jackson said. “I really think it’s pretty outrageous. They have always expressed a strong desire to get Ron back home.”

Smith was sentenced to death for killing Thomas Running Rabbit, 20, and Harvey Mad Man, 23, of Browning in 1982. He got a ride from the cousins, stole their car and shot them both in the head with a sawed-off rifle in the woods near East Glacier.

Smith pleaded guilty and asked to be executed. He later changed his mind and began fighting his death sentence, and has since exhausted nearly all of his appeals.

His case is now pending before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. If the appeals court rules against him, and the U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear his case, Smith’s final option would be to ask the state Board of Pardons and Parole to recommend commutation or clemency to the governor.

On October 31, friends and family members of the two victims met with Schweitzer and asked him to reject any commutation request for Smith, saying the deaths of Running Rabbit and Mad Man had a devastating effect on them and the entire Blackfeet Reservation.

Jackson said that Smith was disappointed about Canada’s decision to stop advocating for him and was reminded of the days and weeks following his arrest, when the Canadian government was notified and “elected not to do a thing.”

“I think his words were, he feels like the Canadian government has kicked him to the curb again,” Jackson said.

Canada’s decision to stop seeking clemency for Smith doesn’t affect the proceedings, because Canada has no legal standing in the case, Attorney General Mike McGrath has said.

But Jackson said it leaves his client “without a very valuable ally in the commutation process when it comes about.”

Canadian officials cannot formally request commutation, but “they certainly would have the right to be heard, as would any interested party,” Jackson said.

“If we have another country intervening on behalf of the inmate, that would most likely carry some weight, if not great weight.”
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