KATIE OYAN Associated Press Writer H E L E N A ( A P )
C a n a d a ' s Conservative government has ended its long-standing federal policy of seeking clemency for any Canadian facing the death penalty in a foreign country, less than a week after Gov. Brian Schweitzer said it was pursuing clemency for a Montana death row inmate. "We are not going to seek clemency in cases in democratic countries, like the United States, where there has been a fair trial," Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement released Wednesday. Ronald A. Smith, who was born in Alberta, has been sentenced to death for the 1982 murders of cousins Harvey Mad Man, 24, and Thomas Running Rabbit, 20, both of Browning. The men, who had picked up Smith while he was hitchhiking, were marched into the woods off U.S. 2 near Marias Pass and shot in the head. Smith's attorney, Greg Jackson, was out of town Thursday and did not immediately return a call seeking comment. However, in an e-mail to The Associated Press, he said: "It appears that the Canadians are abandoning Ron just as they did when he was originally charged and incarcerated. While they were notified of his incarceration per the Geneva Convention, they elected not to do anything. Now, 25 years later, it has come full circle." Jackson said earlier that his client has exhausted nearly all of his appeals. An appeal of a March decision by a federal judge in Helena is pending in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. If the appeals court rules against Smith, he can ask the U. S. Supreme Court to take up his case. If the high court refuses, Smith's last hope would be clemency or commutation from the governor. In Montana, requests for commutation are made after an execution date is set and must be filed with the state Board of Pardons and Parole. The board then conducts a public hearing and makes a recommendation to the governor. Mad Man's father, whose name is also Harvey, said Thursday he was relieved to hear that Canada would no longer be pleading for Smith's life. "That's good," he said. "I feel a lot better. I don't think the governor would do that (commute Smith's sentence), but you never know what may happen. You can't predict the future." Running Rabbit's father, Tom, said he was also pleased with the news, adding that he believes Smith's sentence will be carried out. "He's been turned down by three judges, and each time they re-sentenced him to be executed," Tom Running Rabbit said. "And he's exhausted all his appeals in the Montana court system." At one point, the state Supreme Court heard Smith's case, and "all seven of them (the justices) voted against him," Running Rabbit said. "He's running out of time. "I'm hoping the court system will rule in favor of us with all the stuff that's happened, and I think they will. I'm not sure about it, but my gut feeling is I think they will." On Wednesday, the fathers of the two victims and more than 20 other family members and friends pleaded with Schweitzer to reject any effort Canada might make at seeking clemency for Smith. They described Running Rabbit and Mad Man as role models and said their deaths devastated not just the men's families, but the entire Blackfeet Indian Reservation. "Words cannot describe what Ronald Smith put this family through when he decided he wanted to 'feel what it was like to kill someone,'" the victims' uncle, Gabe Grant, told Schweitzer, in reading a letter written by Tom Running Rabbit and his wife, Katrina. Thomas Running Rabbit's daughter, Jessica, of Browning, said she was so young when her father was killed that she doesn't remember him. "I don't know if I'm for the death penalty, but I don't want him to go back to Canada and be released," she told Schweitzer. Jackson has said Smith was heavily involved with drugs at the time of the shootings and has since become a "bright, intelligent, compassionate man." "He did what he did, and there is no justifying it and no attempt to excuse it nor would Ron want to do that," Jackson said earlier this week. "But he is truly a different person than he was at the time of the offense and right after the offense. Remorseful is an inadequate word. ... He is so haunted by what he did that. He is just not the cold-hearted, arrogant person that he is perceived to be." Attorney General Mike McGrath said Thursday that Canada's decision not to seek clemency "has no impact on this case one way or another," because Canada has no legal standing in the case. "Smith was convicted in state court in Montana, and he was sentenced in state court in Montana," McGrath said. "We've had contacts from the Canadian consulate over the years, just informally. They occasionally will stop in and express their concerns and wonder if there's any way he could be transferred to Canada. And the answer is no, not under our judicial system." Schweitzer spokesman Adam Pimley echoed McGrath's remarks, saying "essentially nothing has changed." "Everybody in the U.S. has the right to due process," he said. "Until it gets to the governor's desk, there's no decision to be made."