Ronald Smith deserves clemency

In the name of decency, spare his life — please — and let everyone move on.

In the name of decency, spare his life — please — and let everyone move on.

Such action would put an end to the cruel and unusual treatment of Ronald Smith, originally from Red Deer, who has been on death row for over 30 years in Montana for killing two people.

But not only that, the families on both sides — the victims’ and his — can stop having to live through yet another extension of the Smith case. In a way, they are also subject to cruel and unusual punishment.

Expecting that killing Smith will offer the families of Smith’s victims some solace, some closure, some happiness, is too simplistic.

Smith has already been in jail longer than most life sentences when parole is eventually granted. His accomplice, Rodney Munro, took a plea bargain. He got 60 years in prison for aggravated kidnapping but was returned to Canada and released in 1998.

On Monday, Smith learned that the outgoing Montana governor had not granted him clemency. It was speculated that this might happen. Instead, Gov. Brian Schweitze decided to take no action. Schweitze is now being accused of taking the easy road, but in doing that, he may have actually granted Smith, 55, several more years of life.

And the longer the case drags on, the better Smith’s chances, as American distaste for the death penalty grows.

The new governor, Steve Bullock, will now be responsible for determining whether Smith will live or die.

Prompted by a challenge by Smith, all Montana planned executions were effectively put on hold earlier this year when a judge declared the state’s method of execution (lethal injection) unconstitutional, cruel and inhumane. It could mean the state will have to make legislative changes to its execution protocol.

In 1982, Smith shot Thomas Running Rabbit, 24, and Harvey Mad Man Jr., 20, in Montana. He and Munro had been hitchhiking, and were under the influence of LSD at the time. When the two victims picked them up, and then stopped to relieve themselves in the woods, Smith shot them both. Munro also stabbed one of them. They then stole their vehicle.

They were arrested three months later.

After Smith was caught, he asked for the death penalty and got it, but later changed his mind.

Since he obviously does not have the money to defend himself, it has cost the state thousands upon thousands of dollars to continually try to carry out his death sentence.

California has 724 death row inmates in the U.S., the highest of a U.S. total of 3,146 (as of Oct. 1, 2012). Montana has just two — one of course being Smith, who has faced several execution dates that have been postponed after various legal appeals. It’s actually been 18 years since anyone has been executed in Montana.

A California report states that it costs $90,000 more per year per death row inmate than for someone serving life in a maximum security prison. The annual cost of the death penalty system in California is estimated at $137 million, compared with a lifetime incarceration system of $11.5 million annually.

Many taxpayers, and legislators as well, would probably prefer to see the difference spent on other things that offer much greater value and benefit to taxpayers.

A long-repentant Smith has suffered for years at the hands of a system that seems lukewarm about executing him, but afraid to step in and say enough is enough. After 30 years, surely justice has been served.

Hopefully Montana’s new governor will move quickly, grant the man clemency, and start the process of joining the growing number of states that are in the process of dumping capital punishment altogether.

Mary-Ann Barr is the Advocate’s assistant city editor. She can be reached by email at barr@bprda.wpengine.com or by phone at 403-314-4332.

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