Montana Death Penalty News

Started by turboprinz, December 18, 2012, 07:17:31 PM

previous topic - next topic

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Go Down


Canada sends letter to Montana asking clemency for Ronald Smith on death row

By Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press December 18, 2012

CALGARY - The Canadian government has sent a letter to Montana's governor requesting that he spare the life of death row inmate Ronald Smith.

The Dec. 10 letter from Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird to Montana's outgoing Gov. Brian Schweitzer is almost identical to one sent to the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole a year ago prior to the Alberta man's clemency hearing. It makes it clear that the Federal Court ordered the federal government to support Smith's case for clemency.

"The government of Canada requests that you grant clemency to Mr. Smith on humanitarian grounds," writes Baird. "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."

Smith has been on death row since admitting he murdered Thomas Running Rabbit and Harvey Madman Jr. near East Glacier, Mont., in 1982.

The Harper government initially refused to back Smith's calls for clemency, saying he was convicted in a democratic country. But the Federal Court ruled Ottawa must follow a long-standing practice of lobbying on behalf of Canadians sentenced to death in other countries.

One of Smith's lawyers, Don Vernay, wasn't sure why the government sent the second letter to Schweitzer. A spokesman for Baird's office responded to questions by reiterating the government's position in the letter.

"They just wanted to, I guess, put their two cents in which didn't really say too much, did it? It's the same lukewarm letter," Vernay said in an interview with The Canadian Press on Monday.

"I guess they just want to go on the record because they're probably like everybody else wondering what's going on here? 'We should make sure we get on the record just to appease the masses in Canada who are against the death penalty.'"

The Montana Board of Pardons and Parole recommended against granting clemency to Smith. The matter is now in the hands of Schweitzer, a two-term Democrat, who is to officially leave office in a matter of weeks.

Schweitzer hasn't commented since the clemency hearing, but earlier indicated he didn't want to leave a decision up to his successor. He did talk about death penalty cases in an interview with The Canadian Press last year.

"You're not talking to a governor who is jubilant about these things,'' he said from his office in Helena. "It feels like you're carrying more than the weight of an Angus bull on your shoulders.''

Vernay said he remains hopeful, but is disappointed that Schweitzer still hasn't met personally with Smith.

"I hope that he gets a chance to meet Mr. Smith before he does decide whether to uphold the recommendation of the board," Vernay said.

"We're a little disappointed that he hasn't met with our client. The Smith family came down here to meet with him. We'd all like to hear something one way or the other for everybody involved."

Smith, 55, and an accomplice were both high on drugs when they marched Running Rabbit and Mad Man Jr. into the woods and shot them in the head. It was a cold-blooded crime. They wanted to steal the men's car, but Smith also said he wanted to know what it was like to kill someone.

He had been taking 30 to 40 hits of LSD and consuming between 12 and 18 beers a day at the time. He refused a plea deal that would have seen him avoid death row and spend the rest of his life in prison. Three weeks later, he pleaded guilty. He asked for and was given a death sentence.

Smith later had a change of heart and has since had a number of execution dates set and then put off.

His execution remains in limbo because of a legal challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union on the methods Montana uses to carry out its lethal injections.

A ruling by Montana District Court Judge Jeffrey Sherlock in September declared the state's executions unconstitutional and placed any future executions on hold. Sherlock is to hear arguments next year on whether the state can make changes to it protocols without going to the legislature for approval.

A three-day hearing has been scheduled starting July 22.
I apologize for my not perfect English. Hopefully you understand what I mean. If not - ask me. I will try to explain.


Death row clemency in 'uncharted waters'

By Randy Boswell, Postmedia News January 2, 2013

Montana's outgoing governor has given the clearest signal yet that he won't be granting clemency to Canadian death-row inmate Ronald Smith during his final days in office, likely placing the Alberta-born killer's fate in the hands of governor-elect Steve Bullock when he takes over the state's top job next week.

It's a situation that one of Smith's lawyers describes as "uncharted waters" for Montana's justice system, which has been dealing with Smith's case for more than 30 years.

The 55-year-old Albertan is one of only two Canadians currently sentenced to death in the United States; the other, Newfoundland-born Robert Bolden, 48, is appealing his death sentence after being convicted in the 2002 killing of a St. Louis bank guard. Responding to questions about the Smith case in recent days, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said: "The recommendation to me was not to do anything."

He added that he's still "not saying one way or another" whether he might commute Smith's death sentence before his gubernatorial term ends on Monday or endorse the recommendation made by Montana's parole board earlier this year that the execution should proceed.

But Smith's case "is not any more on the table at this point than anyone else's," Schweitzer added - apparently referring to unresolved issues concerning the legality of Montana's lethal-injection system, which must be dealt with before the Canadian's execution could be carried out anyway. Schweitzer's comments point to a hands-off approach that would leave the potentially explosive issue to his successor, Bullock, currently the state's attorney general and nominally the Montana justice official who has been responsible for fighting Smith's legal appeals in recent years to avoid execution.

Yet Bullock, a Democrat like Schweitzer, is not considered an ardent supporter of capital punishment, and his moderate views on the subject have sparked attacks in the past by Republican rivals intent on preserving the ultimate punishment in a state sharply split over the issue.

"We are waiting for Gov. Schweitzer to act on the clemency petition, and without his action then the issue shifts to the next governor," Ronald Waterman, one of Smith's three main lawyers said. "But I don't know that the clemency petition would automatically transfer over or whether a new petition would have to be presented before Gov. Bullock would be able to act on the petition. We are in uncharted waters here."

Smith murdered two Montana men in August 1982 during a drunken hitchhiking trip to the U.S. from Red Deer, Alta.
I apologize for my not perfect English. Hopefully you understand what I mean. If not - ask me. I will try to explain.


Revised Execution Protocol Remains Unconstitutional
Protocol Creates Unreasonable Risk of Cruel and Unusual Punishment, Violates Separation of Powers
July 15, 2013

HELENA, Mont. -- Recent changes to Montana's lethal injection protocol by the Montana Department of Corrections create an unreasonable risk of subjecting prisoners to cruel and unusual punishment and violate the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government.

The ACLU of Montana today submitted a brief in District Court calling for the protocol to be declared unconstitutional under the U.S. and Montana Constitutions

"This new policy, written by Department of Corrections' staff, was created without any input from medical or scientific professionals and it reflects that lack of expertise. The two-drug protocol is untested and not in use in any other state in the country. There is no clarity about the drugs to be used, and prisoners are at risk of dying in agony as they slowly suffocate while still conscious," said ACLU of Montana Staff Attorney Anna Conley.

In 2012, District Court Judge Jeffrey Sherlock ruled that the execution protocol was unlawful because the staff charged with carrying it out were not medically qualified to perform their duties in a way that prevented cruelty to the prisoner, and because the three-drug process differed from the statutory two-drug protocol created by the Legislature, violating separation of powers.

"All three of these concerns create a substantial risk of serious harm violative of the Plaintiffs' right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment," Sherlock wrote in his order.

The new two-drug protocol makes Montana the only state in the country to utilize this unscientific and untested method of execution, and creates an unacceptable risk that the prisoner may be conscious while his body is paralyzed by the second drug, resulting in him suffocating to death. Many states are moving toward a one-drug method in which one strong anesthetic both renders the prisoner unconscious and kills him. Montana is moving in a direction of heightened risk of gratuitous and unnecessary suffering.

Another major problem with the revised protocol is that it does not specify the drugs to be used. It calls for using sodium pentothal as an ultra-fast-acting barbiturate -- a drug that is no longer produced in the U.S., is unavailable for purchase and is illegal to import. It offers Pentobarbital, an intermediate-acting barbiturate, as a substitute and allows for any other unspecified drug to be substituted. This creates unreasonable uncertainty about the drug to be used and the risks associated with that drug.

In addition, The Montana statute governing executions specifies using an ultra-fast-acting barbiturate. Thus, the new policy still violates the separation of powers in that the DOC, an executive agency, is blatantly ignoring a clear directive from the legislature to use an ultra-fast-acting barbiturate.

Finally, the policy was created in violation of the state's rule-making procedures outlined in the Montana Administrative Procedures Act. The act mandates public notice and a public hearing, which are essential to ensure public participation in the creation of administrative rules.  No public input whatsoever was solicited or considered in the revision of this lethal injection protocol.  Because the DOC executes people in the name of the people of Montana, the people of Montana should have a say in the method of execution.

Ron Waterman of Gough, Shanahan, Johnson and Waterman, in cooperation with the ACLU of Montana, filed the lawsuit Smith v. Ferriter on behalf of death row inmate Ronald Allen Smith in 2008, challenging the lethal injection procedure in Montana as a violation of cruel and unusual punishment and Montana's right of human dignity. The lawsuit now also includes Montana's only other prisoner on death row, William Gollehon.

Smith's execution was stayed in 2011 pending the outcome of this lawsuit. Smith is also awaiting a decision from Montana Gov. Steve Bullock on his petition for clemency.

"This revised protocol creates more problems than it fixes, and creates an unacceptable risk that prisoners will unconstitutionally be subjected to a slow agonizing death," said Waterman. "If the state insists on imposing the death penalty, it has an obligation to do so in a manner that upholds the U.S. and Montana Constitutions."
I apologize for my not perfect English. Hopefully you understand what I mean. If not - ask me. I will try to explain.

Go Up