Lawyer for Canadian man on death row in Montana says U.S. ‘in the waning days’ of capital punishment

Smith originally asked for and was sentenced to death but later changed his mind and has been fighting execution ever since. He has had a number of execution dates set and overturned.

CALGARY—A lawyer for a Canadian on death row in Montana believes it’s only a matter of time before the death penalty in much of the United States is abolished and his client will be free to return home.

Ronald Smith, 60, is originally from Red Deer, Alta., and has been on death row since 1983 for fatally shooting Harvey Madman Jr. and Thomas Running Rabbit while he was high on LSD and alcohol near East Glacier, Mont.

He originally asked for and was sentenced to death but later changed his mind and has been fighting execution ever since. He has had a number of execution dates set and overturned.

“Last year, I think we’ve only had 20-some executions and those are really isolated to only three or four states, and only three or four counties in those states.

“Most of the United States has moved beyond this and there comes a time where the courts are going to say this is in fact cruel and unusual punishment.”

Lethal injection has been the sole method of execution in Montana since 1997. It is the only state that specifies the death penalty must be accomplished by an “ultra-fast-acting” barbiturate.

Executions in Montana have been on hold since 2008 when the civil liberties union filed legal action that argued that the sedative pentobarbital, which was being proposed by the state as a replacement for the previously used sodium pentothal, could lead to an “excruciating and terrifying” death.

District Court Judge Jeffrey Sherlock sided with the civil liberties group and rejected an appeal by the state of Montana.

Sherlock has now sanctioned the state over its year-long delay in complying with a court order to turn over documents that could reveal if there was manipulation of an expert witness.

The group questioned whether the testimony of Roswell Evans was manipulated at trial to bolster the state’s unsuccessful claim that pentobarbital was suitable for executions.

“We’ve got some emails and we’re now looking at those and trying to ascertain what else is there,” Waterman said. “They’re going to make us unpack this whole thing piece by piece so they’re not going to go easily.

“I don’t know that it’s going to have any direct or immediate impact on the case itself.”

Waterman said it is more a case over legal fees and whether Montana acted in a vexatious manner.

As for Smith’s future, Waterman doesn’t see the current ban on executions in Montana changing any time soon. It would require a new statute being introduced and adopted by both sides of the legislature and would have to be signed by the governor.

“They didn’t change the statute during the last legislative session so the next time up is 2019. I’m not hearing anybody really being that keen about changing (it).”

The Canadian government officially intervened on Smith’s behalf last year when it asked Gov. Steve Bullock to grant him clemency.

“My hope would be ultimately that we can find clemency for Ron so that he can move back to Canada,” Waterman said.

“If the death penalty is abolished he would be eligible to be moved right away.”

MONTANA – Canadian on death row deserves to live: co-accused – Rodney Munro

june 3, 2012 Source :

A man who was convicted along with Ronald Smith in the murder of two Montana men 30 years ago says his former partner-in-crime saved his life and deserves to live.

Rodney Munro, in an exclusive interview with The Canadian Press, has ended decades of silence and is speaking out in defence of Smith, 54, who sits on death row and whose fate is now in the hands of Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

“I thank God everyday for him,” Munro said about Smith in a telephone interview from his home in a quiet community in Western Canada.

On Aug. 4, 1982, Smith and Munro were hitchhiking in Montana when they caught a ride with Harvey Madman Jr. and Thomas Running Rabbit. Smith and Munro marched the two men into the woods and shot and stabbed them to death.

Both Canadians were charged with murder. Smith pleaded guilty to two charges of deliberate homicide and two charges of aggravated kidnapping in February 1983 and requested the death penalty. He rejected a plea deal offered by prosecutors which would have given him life in prison.

He later changed his mind and asked the District Court to reconsider the death penalty. That led to three decades of legal wrangling which is almost at an end.

Munro accepted the plea bargain and pleaded guilty to aggravated kidnapping. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison but was returned to Canada and released in 1998.

“It’s because of Ron that I’m out and doing as well as I am,” Munro said. “Because of what he said in court, I didn’t get the death penalty. And because of that I had a chance of actually getting out and trying to make something of myself.

“He saved my life.”

The Montana Board of Pardons and Parole has recommended that Smith not be granted clemency, even though he was described as a model prisoner during his 30 years at Montana State Prison at a hearing last month.

There was emotional testimony from both sides. Smith’s friends and family said he is a changed man who has rehabilitated himself. But the families of the victims said he deserves no mercy.

The state attorney downplayed Munro’s role in the killings and said it was Smith alone who should pay the ultimate price.

But Munro, who still speaks with Smith by phone every couple of weeks, said he was equally to blame and feels guilt about the murders.

“When you’re involved in what we were involved in, how can you not feel it? We put ourselves in a spot and two guys ended up dead and I think about it all the time,” he said quietly.

“They don’t want to know (about my role). That just brings up that he’s not the monster.

“I hate to say it this way, but it makes them feel better to think they’re killing a monster other than who he is.”

The two men had been taking 30 to 40 hits of LSD and consuming between 12 and 18 beers a day at the time of the murders.

Munro said he and Smith became friends after hanging out in the same circles and through mutual acquaintances.

“We could have been the Bobbsey twins. We kind of connected with each other and away we went. Our life revolved around booze, drugs and partying, and that’s just not who we are any more.”

Now married, employed and free of drugs and alcohol, Munro said he’s sad about what is happening to Smith.

He is also angry that the Canadian government’s support of Smith has been less than enthusiastic.

But Munro is hopeful that Schweitzer will have the political will to spare his friend’s life.

“Ron is not even close to the man he used to be. The guy has learned his lesson. I think we all have.”

Smith told his clemency hearing that he was “horrendously sorry” for his actions.

“I do understand the pain and suffering I’ve put you through,” he said to the victims’ relatives. “It was never my intent to cause any suffering for anybody. I wish there was some way I could take it back. I can’t.”

Munro wanted to send his own message to the families.

“We are just so sorry that this ever happened. If we could change it, we would, but how do you change the past?” he said.

“I think about it everyday and it’s what keeps me on the straight and narrow, making sure nothing like this will ever happen again.”


MISSOURI – Another Canadian on U.S. death row fights to stay alive – ROBERT BOLDEN

June 1, 2012 Source :

Robert Bolden, a Canadian on death row in the U.S. A lawyer representing a Canadian on death row in Indiana wants Ottawa to advocate to save her client's life. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

While Alberta-born killer Ronald Smith awaits the outcome of his high-profile bid to avoid execution for a 1982 double-murder in Montana, the U.S. government is engaged in a court battle with another Canadian citizen facing the death penalty in a little-known case in Indiana — ensuring that the controversial issue of capital punishment will be kept alive for years in Canada regardless of Smith’s fate in the coming months.

The case of Robert Bolden — a 48-year-old, Newfoundland-born man convicted of killing a Missouri security guard during a botched bank robbery in St. Louis in 2002 only recently came to the attention of the Canadian government, partly because Bolden moved to the U.S. as a toddler with a drug-addicted mother who used forged documents to emigrate from Canada.

Bolden’s lawyers have launched an appeal aimed at winning a new trial and overturning his death sentence, largely on the basis that he was “deprived” of what could have been “vital” consular assistance by the Canadian government when he was arrested almost 10 years ago and later in his bid to avoid execution.

“The consulate’s assistance would have been critical to Mr. Bolden’s defence,” states a petition filed on behalf of the Canadian death-row inmate by Jennifer Merrigan, a lawyer with the Kansas City-based Death Penalty Litigation Clinic.

The petition was backed by a detailed affidavit from Gar Pardy, a retired Canadian public servant who headed the consular affairs section at the federal Department of Foreign Affairs from 1995 to 2003, during which time he led several diplomatic missions to prevent Canadians from being executed abroad.

But in a 200-page counter-argument filed last week at the U.S. District Court in Missouri, the U.S. Department of Justice insisted that prosecutors “had every reason to believe that Bolden was a United States citizen” at the time of his arrest, and that defence claims that the death sentence might never have been pursued or secured because of Bolden’s Canadian citizenship are unfounded.

Bolden alleges that the (U.S.) government deprived him of the ‘unique and pivotal role’ of the Canadian Consulate, violating his due process right and right to a fair trial,” states the Department of Justice submission. “This claim is facially implausible. The ‘unique and pivotal role’ the consulate plays is to inform a foreign national of his rights as a defendant in the United States and explain the differences in the American legal system.”

Bolden “had no need for a ‘cultural bridge’,” the statement contends, “because he was very familiar with our legal system. Bolden had been convicted of three prior felonies and has been arrested numerous times.”

The Department of Justice submission recalled Ley’s “unique qualities, his aspiration to become a police officer, his exceptional gift of helping others, the excruciating pain he suffered after Bolden shot him twice in the head, and the catastrophic impact of his death on his family.”

Bolden was born in Stephenville, Nfld., in June 1963. His mother, identified in court documents as “S.D.” Decker, is described as a heroin-addicted, white prostitute who died in the U.S. in 2001. Bolden’s father was an unidentified black American soldier stationed at the U.S. military’s former Harmon Air Force Base in Stephenville, which was closed in 1966.

Alleged racism directed at Decker because of her biracial child appears to have prompted her move to the U.S. around 1966, according to Merrigan.

Bolden was principally raised by the St. Louis-based family of another U.S. soldier with whom Decker  had a fleeting relationship in Newfoundland.

In an interview with Postmedia News, Merrigan said the option of life imprisonment was never adequately explored in the Bolden case because Canadian officials didn’t get a chance — due to the actions of prosecutors and the oversights of defence lawyers — “to weigh in on whether the U.S. government should pursue the death penalty.”

She added that a thorough investigation of Bolden’s early childhood in Newfoundland by his original defence lawyers would have illuminated deep-rooted social and psychological challenges flowing from his mother’s troubled background — a potentially mitigating factor in death-penalty cases in the U.S.

The Decker family’s history of interpersonal violence, verbal abuse, mental illness, addiction, and diabetes — none of which was explored by counsel — is the genetic and psychosocial cornerstone of Robert Bolden’s life story,” states the petition to overturn his death sentence.

John Babcock, a spokesman for Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Diane Ablonczy — who oversees consular issues for the Conservative government — confirmed that Bolden is a Canadian citizen and added: “Mr. Bolden was convicted of the very serious charge of murder. Canadian officials are providing Mr. Bolden with consular assistance, and will continue to do so.”

Bolden is being held in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Until October 2007, the Canadian government’s long-standing policy was to automatically seek clemency for Canadians facing execution in foreign countries.

Then, in response to a Postmedia News story about Canadian diplomats lobbying Montana’s governor to commute Smith’s sentence, the Conservative government halted those efforts and declared a new policy of reviewing clemency requests on a “case-by-case” basis — which Prime Minister Stephen Harper said was more in keeping with his government’s tough-on-crime agenda.

The Federal Court of Canada later ruled that the government had acted unlawfully by ending its support for Smith and ordered it to resume clemency efforts.

In December, ahead of Smith’s clemency hearing last month in Montana, the Canadian government sent a letter requesting that Smith be spared execution for “humanitarian reasons.” But opposition critics and Smith’s lawyers panned the letter as a lukewarm expression of the Canadian government’s formal opposition to capital punishment, which was abolished in this country in 1976.

Montana’s parole board has recommended to the state’s governor, Brian Schweitzer, that Smith be denied clemency. But Schweitzer, whose final term as governor automatically ends on Dec. 31 this year, is not likely to be in office by the time an outstanding lawsuit related to Montana’s lethal-injection is resolved early next year, clearing the way for an execution date to be set for Smith.