Governor says he’s undecided on clemency for Ronald Smith

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer on Friday told the family of a Canadian on death row that he is undecided on the inmate’s request for executive clemency, at times expressing sympathy for his plight and at other times noting the desire of the victims’ families for retribution.

HELENA, Mon. — Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer on Friday told the family of a Canadian on death row that he is undecided on the inmate’s request for executive clemency, at times expressing sympathy for his plight and at other times noting the desire of the victims’ families for retribution.

The governor had a long, frank discussion with relatives of convicted murderer Ronald A. Smith. Schweitzer told them that his options include doing nothing with the clemency request, which seeks life in prison without the possibility of parole instead of the death penalty.

Schweitzer sympathized with the plight of Smith, who is scheduled to be executed in the 1982 killings of two Blackfeet Indian men. The governor said it is not fair for Smith to be executed after an accomplice was paroled, and indicated he believes that Smith may be a different man.

But the governor said he has spoken with the victims’ families, Blackfeet tribal members, who have told him they need Smith’s death for closure. The governor said he remains uncertain whether Smith’s death would improve the situation, and said he is not sure the traditional form of justice for the Blackfeet would include the death penalty.

“In their system of justice, when people did something very bad, they were banished,” Schweitzer said.

A tribal council member has said that many in the tribe believe that if the governor gives clemency to Smith that means the governor values Native American lives less.

Schweitzer told Smith’s family, from Red Deer, Alta., that he is aware of that criticism, but argued it does not have merit because he believes he has done more than past governors to include Montana’s largest minority group in his administration. Still, the governor is weighing the desire of those on the reservation.

“They cannot rest until there is retribution and Ron’s life is taken. They told us that,” Schweitzer said.

Blackfeet tribal members and family of the victims told the Montana Parole Board earlier this year that the execution has been postponed for too long and say it is time for Smith to pay for his crimes.

The board is recommending that Schweitzer dismiss the clemency request, writing in their report that “justice is best served” by continuing with the execution. The governor makes the final call.

Smith’s sister, Rita Duncan, told the governor much of the same that she and others told the parole board: Smith is a changed man who deserves to live the rest of his life behind bars. Speaking in a barely audible whisper, Duncan at times broke down in tears, as she described the impact Smith has helping the rest of his family through letters and phone calls.

Also at the meeting were Smith’s dad Nelson Smith, his daughter Carmen Blackburn and her two children.

The governor told them all options remain on the table. He does not have a timetable for making a decision, but noted the best-case scenario for Smith is life behind bars.

“His sentence, one way or another, is death: slow or long,” Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer also expressed anger at Smith, who originally sought the death penalty at trial before changing his mind, for putting the state of Montana in the position of aiding a suicide he once wanted.

The governor noted that the victims and others also wonder whether Smith’s apparent turnabout is real.

“Are we sure that monster is gone? Is this just a mask?” Schweitzer said.

The governor said many who write or call his office think argue Smith needs to be killed.

“I keep coming back to this question of what is fair. I don’t know what is fair,” the governor said in the hour-long meeting.

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

Just Posted

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

The Red Deer Rebels allowed four straight goals from the Medicine Hat Tigers Friday night on the road. (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers hand Red Deer Rebels 10th straight loss

Tigers 4 Rebels 2 Through 17 games in the shortened WHL season,… Continue reading

Meghan Huizing has been selected by Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools as a finalist for the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) 2021 Edwin Parr Award. (Photo courtesy of Red Deer Regional Catholic Schools)
Red Deer Catholic names finalist for Edwin Parr Award

Meghan Huizing from St. Gregory the Great Catholic School in Blackfalds has… Continue reading

GrammaLink-Africa members are participating in the Stride to Turn the Tide campaign until June 30. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer group walking to raise money for African grandmothers

A group of central Albertans will be walking every day until the… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Montreal Canadiens' Tyler Toffoli celebrates his goal past Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom during second-period NHL hockey action in Montreal on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Toffoli scores twice, Canadiens put some distance on Flames with 2-1 win

Toffoli scores twice, Canadiens put some distance on Flames with 2-1 win

Canadian prop Jake Ilnicki savouring life in Seattle, looks forward to facing Arrows

Canadian prop Jake Ilnicki savouring life in Seattle, looks forward to facing Arrows

Corey Conners, of Canada, hits out of a bunker on the seventh hole during the final round of the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga., Sunday, April 11, 2021. Conners notched six birdies on his back nine to take the lead after his second round of the RBC Heritage on Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Matt Slocum
Canadian Corey Conners surges into lead at PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage

Canadian Corey Conners surges into lead at PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage

Patrick Marleau poised to break Gordie Howe’s games record

Patrick Marleau poised to break Gordie Howe’s games record

Leylah Annie Fernandez of Canada serves to Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic in round 1 of the Rogers Cup women's tennis tournament in Toronto, Monday August 5, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch
Rebecca Marino propels Canada into 2-0 lead over Serbia at Billie Jean King Cup

Rebecca Marino propels Canada into 2-0 lead over Serbia at Billie Jean King Cup

Dalton Kellett pulls out of the pits during a practice session for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in Indianapolis, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. Dalton Kellett is pleased his second career season in IndyCar will be different than his first, which started on an elaborate iRacing rig in his home office in Indianapolis because of COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Darron Cummings
Canada’s Dalton Kellett set for a more stable season as an IndyCar driver

Canada’s Dalton Kellett set for a more stable season as an IndyCar driver

Canada head coach Bev Priestman reacts during the women's international friendly soccer match between England and Canada at Bet365 stadium in Stoke on Trent, England, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Rui Vieira
Canadian women get peek at their possible road at Olympic soccer tournament

Canadian women get peek at their possible road at Olympic soccer tournament

Head coach John Tait talks to his team as Canada takes on Japan in women's sevens rugby action at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Rugby Canada says probe into complaint from members of women’s 7s team is complete

Rugby Canada says probe into complaint from members of women’s 7s team is complete

Most Read