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

Have an opinion you’d like to share? Submit letters to the editor through our website, via email or the postal service. (Heather Colpitts/Black Press Media)
LETTER: Langley and other communities should be concerned about credit union’s direction

Member read the fine print and does not like the proposed changes

Langley MLAs Andrew Mercier and Megan Dykeman. (Black Press Media files)
Langley MLAs announce multiculturalism grants intended to help fight racism

Priority was given to projects addressing anti-Indigenous, anti-Asian and anti-Black racism

Jaden Lipinski has signed to the Langley-based Vancouver Giants, and is expected to start next season. (Lipinski Family/Special to Black Press Media)
Arizona forward joins Vancouver Giants ranks

A young scorer out of Scottsdale was signed to start playing in the 2021-22 season

Langley Township is planning to construct a multi-use arts and cultural centre in Fort Langley. (Langley Township graphic)
Wanna buy a piece of Langley history? Museum naming rights up for grabs

Township opens up sponsorship for new Salishan Place by the River history, arts and culture centre

Vancouver Giants goalie Trent Miner saw his lengthy shutout streak in the net come to an end in a 6-3 loss against Prince George on Saturday, April 10. (Allen Douglas/Special to the Langley Advance Times)
Giants winning streak snapped by Prince George Cougars in 6-3 loss

The game also marked the end of a franchise-record shutout streak by goalie Trent Miner

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

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

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Most Read