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

A nurse holds vials of AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 during a vaccination campaign at WiZink indoor arena in Madrid, Spain, Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Manu Fernandez
Hope residents 40 and older can now get vaccinated at participating pharmacies

Remedy’s RX pharmacist said the response from the public was immediate following announcement

Future Finlandia Lion Ian Heagy with his biggest fan, mom Jen Heagy. (submitted photo)
Chilliwack hockey player Ian Heagy defies the odds to land at Finlandia

Having never played a minute of rep, Heagy is making the jump from house to NCAA Div 2 hockey

The Abbotsford Centre has the ability to host AHL level games if the Vancouver Canucks or any other NHL team chose to move its affiliate to the arena. (File photo)
Abbotsford Centre ready for AHL if right opportunity presents itself

Building recently upgraded glass and boards, schedule would allow for AHL tenant

In 2012, police in Abbotsford placed surveillance cameras near the Dhaliwal home in the 2500 block of Bradner Road after there were two drive-by shootings in the area. Harb Dhaliwal, 31, has now been identified as the victim of a fatal shooting April 17 in Vancouver. (Abbotsford News file photo)
Abbotsford man named as victim of fatal weekend shooting in Vancouver

Harpreet Dhaliwal, 31, killed outside of Cardero’s restaurant in Coal Harbour

Joudelie King wants to get out and live life to the fullest, but there are places she can’t go because they don’t meet her accessibility needs. (submitted photo)
New online tool provides accessibility map for people with disabilities

The myCommunity BC map provides accessibility info for nearly 1,000 locations in the province

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

A man has died after being shot at Coquitlam’s Town Centre Park the evening of Monday, April 19. (Twitter/IHIT)
1 man dead after shooting at Coquitlam park: IHIT

The gunman is still at large, according to the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
B.C. health authority seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

Chakalaka Bar and Grill plans to continue serving customers without public health compliance

Most Read