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

Marchers supporting Indian farmers rallied in Surrey last month, from Bear Creek Park to Holland Park along King George Boulevard. (File photo: Tom Zillich)
Surrey MP says mayor’s motion to support Indian farmers is his to make

“He has his own sovereignty, right,” Sukh Dhaliwal says

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Photo: Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions against new model; BCSS and its board in favour

Researchers say residents should leave sleeping bats alone while they exit hibernation. (Cathy Koot photo)
Spring ‘signal’ brings White Rock, Surrey bats out of hibernation

Community Bat Programs of BC says it’s best to leave sleeping bats alone

(Photo: Creative Outlet)
YOUR MONEY: Tax tips for a complicated tax season involving CERB and more

With April 30 tax deadline, ‘it is important to understand the tax implications (benefits) will have’

The Delta Police Department’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Unit: (from left) Const. Joel Thirsk, analyst Jody Johnson and Staff Sgt. Sukh Sidhu. (Delta Police Department photo)
Delta police respond to rising number of hate crimes

Police have received 15 reports so far in 2021, compared to 12 in all of 2020

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Top doctor warns B.C.’s daily cases could reach 3,000 as COVID hospitalizations surge

There are more than 400 people in hospital, with 125 of them in ICU

The corner of 96th Avenue and Glover Road in Fort Langley now has traffic signals, and new “touchless” signal activation buttons. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Busy Fort Langley intersection gets ‘touchless’ crosswalk signals

The new traffic light started operation in April

A crossing guard stops traffic as students wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 arrive at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. A number of schools in the Fraser Health region, including Woodward Hill, have reported cases of the B.1.7.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-infected students in Lower Mainland schools transmitting to 1 to 2 others: data

Eight to 13 per cent of COVID cases among students in the Lower Mainland were acquired in schools, B.C. says

Dr. Bonnie Henry – in a B.C. health order that went into effect April 12 – granted WorkSafe inspectors the power to enforce workplace closures with COVID-19 spread. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
24 workplace closures being enforced in Fraser Health under new COVID-19 order

WorkSafe inspectors the power to enforce closures if COVID-19 has spread to 3 or more employees

Maple Ridge Fire and Rescue were conducting training operations at Gold Creek Falls when a firefighter broke their leg. (Eileen Robinson photo - Special to The News)
Firefighter suffers broken leg during swift water rescue practice in Golden Ears park

A training exercise at Maple Ridge waterfall on Wedesday results in mishap

Norm Scott, president of Royal Canadian Legion Branch # 91, is disappointed the Legion does not qualify for COVID financial assistance from the provincial government. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C.’s pandemic aid package passing Legion branches by

Federal non-profit status stymies provincial assistance eligibility

Latest modelling by public health shows cases generated by COVID-19 infections into places where it can spread quickly. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
Industrial sites, pubs, restaurants driving COVID-19 spread in B.C.

Infection risk higher in offices, retail, warehouses, farms

Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller said it would be “very challenging and not very safe” for him and his teammates to play as scheduled on Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Canucks’ return to ice postponed again after players voice COVID health concerns

Friday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers was called off after the team met virtually with the NHLPA

B.C. Attorney General David Eby, Minister Responsible for Housing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. announces $2B for affordable, middle-income family home projects

HousingHub financing to encourage more developers, groups – with low-interest loans – to build affordable homes

Most Read