Execution changes give hope to Smith

CALGARY — A complex legislative process and a lack of political will could derail any plans to change the way Montana carries out its executions, but may be a ray of hope for a Canadian on death row.

CALGARY — A complex legislative process and a lack of political will could derail any plans to change the way Montana carries out its executions, but may be a ray of hope for a Canadian on death row.

This month’s ruling by a judge who declared the state’s method of execution “unconstitutional” could do something 30 years of legal wrangling and appeals have failed to do for Canadian Ronald Smith — prevent his execution for the 1982 murders of two young Montana men.

But it’s not a simple matter.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a civil lawsuit in 2008 on behalf of Smith that argued the lethal injections the state uses are cruel and unusual punishment and violate the right to human dignity.

District Court Judge Jeffrey Sherlock in his Sept. 6 ruling pointed to problems such as lack of training for individuals who administer the drug and a discrepancy over whether two or three drugs should be used. He also questioned the method used to determine if an inmate is actually unconscious before receiving the lethal injection.

“The Montana protocol has problems,” Sherlock said in his 26-page judgment.

“All three of these concerns create a substantial risk of serious harm violative of the plaintiff’s right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment.”

Sherlock said the state legislature needs to rejig the statutes to bring the execution protocol into line with Montana’s Constitution.

Ron Waterman, lawyer for the civil liberties union, suggests getting those changes passed by the state legislature could be a formidable task.

“Even if they went forward and wanted to change the statute, there’s no guarantee, with how the legislature has been divided, that the statute can be changed,” said Waterman in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“That’s a steeper hill to climb.”

He also doubts there is a lot of support for revamping the execution method.

“The truth of the matter is we’ve not used the death penalty for some time. We have gone more than a decade without any new capital cases being charged,” he said.

“There’s not going to be a huge clamour of, ’We use this all the time.”’

“This isn’t Texas.”

Democratic Senator Dave Wanzenried intends to reintroduce a bill to repeal Montana’s death penalty when the state legislature sits again in January. The bill made it through the Senate twice in 2009 and 2011 but failed to get past the Montana house judiciary committee.

In order to pass, the changes need to pass both the Senate and the state House of Representatives.

“It takes an awful lot of navigating to get a bill through the legislature, especially one that will be as controversial as this one will be,” Wanzenried said.

Smith, originally from Red Deer, Alta., has been living on borrowed time since he was convicted in Montana in 1983 for shooting Harvey Madman Jr. and Thomas Running Rabbit, while he was high on drugs and alcohol near East Glacier, Mont.

He is currently waiting to see if Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer will grant him clemency.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Wetaskiwin RCMP charge impaired driver after he rams into police car

The suspect vehicle purposefully crashed into a parked police vehicle, pushing it into the ditch.

‘It’s awful’: Calgary homeless sleeping outdoors over fears of catching COVID-19

CALGARY — Gordon Kelter has something to fear more than not having… Continue reading

Pandemic a boon for the bicycle as thousands snap them up

SAN FRANCISCO — Joel Johnson hadn’t owned a bicycle since he was… Continue reading

VIDEO: Procession to honour Snowbirds Capt. Jennifer Casey comes to Halifax

Snowbirds service member died in a crash in Kamloops one week ago

Alberta government website has latest COVID-19 statistics

Red Deer Advocate readers can stay up to date on the COVID-19… Continue reading

Global warming critics find themselves under attack

Re: “Tropical storms offer glimpse of our evolving environment,” Gwynne Dyer, Opinion,… Continue reading

Scheer has quickly made a hash of Harper’s legacy

By the time Andrew Scheer hands over the Conservative party to a… Continue reading

Bayern, Dortmund warm up for quietest ever Bundesliga duel

BERLIN — Canada’s Alphonso Davies rose to the occasion on Saturday as… Continue reading

Ace Canadian esports driver Brooks tearing up the track online during COVID-19

TORONTO — Andrew Brooks could write a travelogue that would make a… Continue reading

Canadian Screen Awards to reveal winners tonight through Thursday

TORONTO — The Canadian Screen Awards will reveal this year’s winners in… Continue reading

Kirk 2.0: Capt. Pike of new ‘Star Trek’ a welcome new icon

In the beginning, in the “Star Trek” universe, there was only Captain… Continue reading

N.S. fire crews continue battling ‘out-of-control’ Porters Lake blaze

Word of the fire first emerged early Saturday afternoon

Most Read