The final appeal

It’s been a quarter-century of legal battles and court hearings, and now the only Canadian on death row in the United States is about to hit the wall in his fight to stay alive.

CALGARY — It’s been a quarter-century of legal battles and court hearings, and now the only Canadian on death row in the United States is about to hit the wall in his fight to stay alive.

Ronald Smith’s case is to go before the U.S. Supreme Court this fall — the last legal option available to him.

“Frankly our assessment is any time you are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a case, and, given the limited number of cases they review, it’s probably somewhat of a long shot,” Smith’s lawyer of many years, Greg Jackson, told The Canadian Press.

“That’s really from the court system standpoint our last chance … We’ve exhausted all state and federal remedies other than the U.S. Supreme Court. If the U.S. Supreme Court does not either hear the petition or grant relief, then basically it will be remanded back to the state of Montana to go forward with an execution date.”

Smith, 52, has been living on borrowed time since he was convicted in 1983 of murdering two cousins, Harvey Madman Jr. and Thomas Running Rabbit, while he was high on drugs and alcohol.

He originally requested and was granted the death penalty for his crimes, but he had a change of heart and has been fighting a legal roller coaster for the last 25 years. He has been sentenced to death four times and had the order overturned on three occasions.

Smith, originally from Red Deer, Alta., has spent 23 hours a day in his cell in the maximum-security wing of the Montana State Prison at Deer Lodge. Out behind that wing sits a small trailer, the state’s death chamber, where three men have been executed by lethal injection in the last 10 years.

His latest setback came last week when a regional Appeal Court rejected a bid to have his case reheard. Jackson had argued that Smith didn’t have effective counsel when he pleaded guilty and the death penalty wasn’t warranted.

Now Jackson will file the paperwork asking the Supreme Court to review the case. A decision isn’t expected until October.

“It’s coming down to where the rubber meets the road. It’s a position that we all hoped we would never get to,” Jackson said.

If it goes as expected, and the Supreme Court refuses to hear the case, the final hope will be a request for clemency from Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

“Once a petition is filed, then there is notice published in newspapers throughout the state of the hearing, Jackson explained. ”There is a hearing at which the Board of Pardons and Parole listens to comments from the opponents and proponents for clemency. Then they make a recommendation to either grant or deny.

“Either way it goes to the governor.”

Jackson said the Canadian government will be asked for its support. Ottawa used to routinely lobby for clemency in such cases, but Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have brought in a policy that Canada will not get involved if there’s been a conviction in a democratic country that honours the rule of law.

But last year a Federal Court justice ruled that Ottawa couldn’t arbitrarily end its long-standing approach and ordered the government to try to win clemency for Smith.

Liberal MP Dan McTeague, the party’s critic for consular affairs, said he will hold the government to its responsibility to follow the federal court decision.

“I expect the Canadian government to stand by the law and stand by its conventions and the minister of foreign affairs to do the job to seek to commute the sentence of Ronald Smith,” said McTeague.

“The reality here is a simple call made by the Canadian government, through its minister of foreign affairs, to the governor would likely have the effect of sparing Mr. Smith’s life.”

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

Just Posted

House sales remain hot in central Alberta with first-quarter sales nearly double last year’s numbers. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Central Alberta real estate market hot in 2021

Residential sales nearly double 2020 in first quarter

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer gave an update on Olymel's COVID-19 situation on Wednesday. (File photo by Advocate staff).
Veer addresses rising COVID-19 cases in Red Deer

Red Deer has added nearly 200 cases of active COVID-19 cases in past week

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Premier Jason Kenney say the province would look at adding additional COVID-19 measures in the coming weeks if the virus continues to spread. (Photo by Government of Alberta)
Walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinic to open in Red Deer

Alberta adds 1,345 new cases of the virus

Innisfail RCMP are investigating a single-vehicle crash that happened west of Bowden on March 21, 2021. (File photo by Advocate staff)
RCMP investigate culturally insensitive graffiti at Sylvan Lake school

Sylvan Lake RCMP is investigating a vandalism incident. On April 17 around… Continue reading

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy www.medicago.com)
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

Vancouver Canucks' Tanner Pearson, right, celebrates after scoring against Toronto Maple Leafs goalie David Rittich during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Pearson, Sutter each score twice as Canucks dump Leafs 6-3

Pearson, Sutter each score twice as Canucks dump Leafs 6-3

Everton's Gylfi Sigurdsson celebrates with teammates after scoring his side's second goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Everton and Tottenham Hotspur at Goodison Park in Liverpool, England, Friday, April 16, 2021. (Peter Powell/Pool via AP)
Super League collapses after the 6 English clubs withdraw

Super League collapses after the 6 English clubs withdraw

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez delivers against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at Fenway Park in Boston. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Bogaerts’ 3-run HR, Rodriguez lift BoSox over Blue Jays 4-2

Bogaerts’ 3-run HR, Rodriguez lift BoSox over Blue Jays 4-2

Pound says Olympic qualifying issues a concern to IOC

Pound says Olympic qualifying issues a concern to IOC

Former University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Rowing Canada sanctions former head coach of B.C. varsity women’s team

Rowing Canada sanctions former head coach of B.C. varsity women’s team

Ontario Hockey League cancels 2020-21 season as COVID-19 cases surge in province

Ontario Hockey League cancels 2020-21 season as COVID-19 cases surge in province

Lionel Desmond (front row, far right) was part of the 2nd battalion, of the Royal Canadian Regiment, based at CFB Gagetown and shown in this 2007 handout photo taken in Panjwai district in between patrol base Wilson and Masum Ghar in Afghanistan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Facebook-Trev Bungay MANDATORY CREDIT
Desmond inquiry: Veterans Affairs submits internal review after initial refusal

Desmond inquiry: Veterans Affairs submits internal review after initial refusal

FILE - In this Feb. 18, 2021 file photo State representatives gather at the Capitol, in Phoenix. Two years after Arizona lawmakers repealed a law barring any instruction on HIV or AIDS that that "promotes a homosexual lifestyle," they are close to enacting a broad remake of the state's sex education laws with a particular focus on LGBTQ issues. (AP Photo/Matt York,File)
Arizona governor vetoes strict sex education legislation

Arizona governor vetoes strict sex education legislation

Most Read