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

Ocean Scheerschmidt, and her dad Brad, raised $1,100 for an Alberta-based veteran support program. 
Kevin J. Sabo photo
A Castor youth has fundraised for an organization dedicated to helping military veterans and first responders

The Hoggin Alberta Veterans Ranch is receiving an $1,100 donation from ten-year-old Ocean Scheerschmidt

A health care worker prepares to test a Coastal GasLink field worker for COVID-19. (Coastal GasLink photo)
Alberta bill would protect health workers, care homes from some COVID-19 lawsuits

The bill proposes exempting a range of workers, including doctors, pharmacists and care-home operators from being sued over COVID-19 – unless for gross negligence

pic
Main Street construction to commence on May 1st

The project will include new concrete sidewalks, enhanced bulbing features, and watermain replacements

Nineteen-year-old Amanda enjoys a ride during a visit to Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler. photo submitted
Busy days at Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler

The ranch, which launched operations last summer, provides support through animal interaction

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Thursday that the province has seen its first case of the B.1.617 variant. (Photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Red Deer nears record number of active COVID-19 cases

Alberta reports 1,857 new cases of COVID-19, 1,326 new variants

A nurse gets a swab ready to perform a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta reports first case of another new variant as daily COVID-19 cases rise

Hinshaw says it was brought to Alberta by an interprovincial traveller

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canada buys 65M Pfizer booster shots for protection against COVID-19 variants

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the deal with Pfizer includes options to add 30 million doses in both 2022 and 2023, and an option for 60 million doses in 2024

Steam billows from the Sheerness coal-fired generating station near Hanna, Alta., Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta didn’t consider impact of mountain coal mining on tourism: official

Justin Brattinga, spokesman for current minister Doug Schweitzer, said the tourism strategy is being completely revised

Alberta auditor general Doug Wylie speaks at a news conference in Edmonton on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta auditor general finds CT and MRI tests confused, antiquated

In 2018-19, Alberta performed 647,000 combined MRI and CT exams at a cost of more than $170 million

pic
Main Street construction to commence on May 1st

The project will include new concrete sidewalks, enhanced bulbing features, and watermain replacements

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange was in Red Deer on Friday to provide an update on the province's COVID-19 response in schools.
Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Alberta government aiming to boost financial literacy among students

Government providing grants to organizations who will help design financial literacy programming

President Joe Biden holds a virtual bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
U.S. to help Canada with more COVID-19 vaccine supply, Biden says

The U.S. has already provided Canada with about 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine

Most Read