Ronald Smith is shown on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012, at Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge. The fate of the Canadian on death row in Montana for the past 38 years could become more tenuous as the state government gets closer to removing obstacles that prevent it from resuming executions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Graveland

Ronald Smith is shown on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012, at Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge. The fate of the Canadian on death row in Montana for the past 38 years could become more tenuous as the state government gets closer to removing obstacles that prevent it from resuming executions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Graveland

‘This is torture:’ Proposed law in Montana looms over Albertan on death row

Montana specifies that the death penalty must be accomplished by an ‘ultra-fast-acting’ barbiturate

The fate of a Canadian man who has been on death row in Montana for 38 years could become more tenuous as the state gets closer to removing obstacles that prevent it from resuming executions.

Ronald Smith, 63, is originally from Red Deer, Alta., and has been on death row since 1983, a year after he and another man, high on LSD and alcohol near East Glacier, Mont., shot and killed two young Indigenous cousins.

Montana specifies that the death penalty must be accomplished by an “ultra-fast-acting” barbiturate. A district court judge stayed executions more than a decade ago after ruling that the proposed use of pentobarbital didn’t meet requirements.

But a bill that would allow Montana to use any “intravenous injection in a lethal quantity” has passed in the House of Representatives and is to be voted on this week by the senate.

Smith’s daughter, who was six when her father went to prison, is trying not to worry.

“I think it’s stupid. I think it’s stressful. If it happens, I’ll be heartbroken,” Carmen Blackburn said in an interview with The Canadian Press in Red Deer.

“This is more than revenge. This is just now inhumane. This is torture. There needs to be a decision one way or the other.”

Several groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have argued against the proposed legislation.

“(It’s) really the worst-case scenario for abolition advocates. It made it through the house, but we’re working our tails off to stop this thing in the senate,” said Sam Forstag, the union’s legislative program manager.

“I’m incredibly worried and I know all of the other abolition advocates are as well. A bill like this functionally would restore the death penalty after a years-long moratorium.”

Rep. Ed Stafman, a Democrat, had sponsored a bill calling for the death penalty to be abolished but it was defeated. He described support for the death penalty in Montana as “miles wide and inches deep.”

He also said the Republicans have a majority in the senate, so the new legislation may have the support it needs to become law.

Not all Republicans are in favour of the death penalty, he noted, so he’s crossing his fingers.

“I’m not optimistic, but I’m hopeful.”

Ron Waterman, a civil liberties union lawyer who worked on Smith’s case, said even if the new protocol is adopted, nothing would happen right away.

“This will only bring the case to the point where the various rulings by the court could be appealed,” Waterman said.

“Given the numerous issues which are appealable by Smith’s attorneys, the case likely will take years to resolve.”

The Montana Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops, has been lobbying to have the death penalty abolished.

“This legislation moves us one step closer to restarting executions in Montana … a significant step closer. And we think that’s a terrible thing,” said executive director Matt Brower.

He said his group will work behind the scenes to try to convince senate members to vote against the new legislation.

Blackburn said her father was devastated when the outgoing Democratic governor failed to commute his sentence late last year, despite the backing of religious and social groups, as well as a new request from the Canadian government.

When Smith was first charged with murder, he refused a plea deal that would have sent him to prison for life. He later pleaded guilty and asked for the death penalty, then changed his mind and said he wanted to live.

Five execution dates have been set over the years. Each has been overturned.

Smith and Rodney Munro admitted to marching Harvey Mad Man, 23, and Thomas Running Rabbit, 20, into the woods by a highway in 1982. They shot them in the head with a sawed-off .22-calibre rifle.

Court heard that Smith and Munro wanted to steal the victims’ car. Smith also said at the time that he wanted to know what it was like to kill someone.

Blackburn said her father is not that man anymore.

“He took something so horrific and has been trying his darndest to turn everything around. He’s sober, he went to school. He said he would want to work with troubled kids if he ever got out,” she said.

“He’s trying, even if it’s from afar. He just wants to be able to do something good now.”

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

This Earth Day, Cowichan Valley residents are being asked to clean up where they are. (File photo)
Cowichan ‘Clean Where You Are’ campaign starts on Earth Day

Take a bag, one glove, long tongs, and go pick up!

City of Duncan considering an average 3.51 per cent tax increase for 2021. (File photo)
Duncan considers average 3.51% tax increase for 2021

Homeowners would see a $43 increase over last year

North Cowichan councillor Kate Marsh. (File photo)
North Cowichan postpones decision on cell tower placement

But cell tower policy may be developed soon

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks at a press conference Monday, April 18. (B.C. Government image)
New COVID-19 cases tick down on the central Island

New cases held to single digits three days in a row

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

Mak Parhar speaks at an anti-mask rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Parhar was arrested on Nov. 2 and charged with allegedly violating the Quarantine Act after returning from a Flat Earth conference held in Geenville, South Carolina on Oct. 24. (Flat Earth Focker/YouTube.com screenshot)
Judge tosses lawsuit of B.C. COVID-denier who broke quarantine after Flat Earth conference

Mak Parhar accused gov, police of trespass, malfeasance, extortion, terrorism, kidnapping and fraud

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

Most Read