DEER LODGE, Mon. — With the clock ticking down toward a decision on whether he lives or dies, the only Canadian on death row in the United States is expressing regret and sadness for the crimes he committed and the situation he finds himself in.
But Ronald Smith is also angry at the Canadian government for its “tepid” support of his clemency bid — support that came only after Federal Court forced Ottawa to act on Smith’s behalf.
“It bothered me,” Smith said in an interview with The Canadian Press at Montana State Prison — his home for the last 30 years.
“There was no need to make it a point that: ’We’re being forced into this.’ Come on, really? Am I that horrible a person that you have to be forced to act like a human being?
“I was a little grumpy about it.”
Smith, originally from Red Deer, Alta., has been on death row since 1982. A drug-addicted drifter back then, Smith and an accomplice, both of them high on LSD and booze, marched Thomas Running Rabbit and Harvey Mad Man Jr. into the woods near East Glacier, Mont., and shot them in the head.
They were cold-blooded killings. Smith said he shot the men just to know how it felt to take a life and because he wanted to steal their car.
Smith asked for and received a death sentence, but later changed his mind. His legal avenues of appeal have all run out and the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole has scheduled a hearing in May after which it will make a recommendation on whether Smith should be spared. The final decision will fall to Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government initially refused to support Smith, saying he had been convicted in a democratic country. The decision ran counter to a long-standing policy of seeking clemency for Canadians sentenced to death in foreign lands. The Federal Court ruled the government had to back Smith.
The government did write a letter asking the board to spare Smith’s life, but its public support for the bid has been minimal.
“The government of Canada does not sympathize with violent crime and this letter should not be construed as reflecting a judgment on Mr. Smith’s conduct,” the letter said. “The government of Canada … requests that you grant clemency to Mr. Smith on humanitarian grounds.”
The letter was signed by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird
“I feel a little bit of both (anger and hurt),” Smith said. “They don’t know me. They’re taking a look at what happened to me all that time ago. They’re not taking a look at anything else.
“I don’t think it will hurt, but it’s not going to be a benefit obviously.”
If Smith does win clemency, he will still spend the rest of his life behind bars.
He realizes that he is likely to die in Montana State Prison. The only remaining questions are when and how.
He said the support of his family — he has a daughter and two grandchildren — has helped him through his time on death row.
And he realizes that he took two men away from their own loved ones.
“I’ve always wanted an opportunity to step outside of all of this, and to be able to apologize to the family and explain to them just everything about me at that point in time. I was a completely different person,” Smith said.
“I’m not looking for forgiveness. I don’t think that is a possibility. I can see what it did to my family, so it’s got to be considerably more to them because I’m still here. I’ve taken that away from them so again I try not to dwell on it.”
If Smith’s bid for clemency fails, another execution date will be scheduled and there won’t be any last-minute appeals that can rescue him from a lethal injection.