Archive for March, 2012

Harper Government sentences man to death

March 22, 2012

by Jack Locke

Although Canada abandoned the death penalty officially in 1976, it’s clear the current Harper government would like to see one Canadian executed, even if they don’t have to pull the switch.

Canadian Ron Smith has been on Montana’s death row since 1983. According to former judge Michael Keedy(who first imposed the death penalty on Smith) in an exclusive Lockeblog interview he says, “As far as I can recall, the Canadian government took no role in Mr. Smith’s case in the “early stages,” as you say, or even for a number of years thereafter.”

As Smith’s last-ditch effort to save his own life comes before the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole on May 2, the letter sent by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird to the Montana Board Read John Baird’s Letter HERE does not mention that Ron Smith did not have a trial, does not mention Canada’s previous failure to ensure Smith had a trial, and does not offer to accept Smith’s return to a Canadian prison in exchange for clemency.

But the letter does include: “On March 4, 2009, the Honourable Mr. Justice Robert Barnes of the Federal Court of Canada ordered the Government to support Mr. Smith’s case for clemency.” Read Federal Court decision HERE

The Harper Government may just as well have said, “We support Mr. Smith’s execution.”

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Exclusive interview with death sentence judge

March 2, 2012

In 1983, Montana Flathead County Judge Michael H. Keedy sentenced Canadian Ronald A. Smith to death for the murder of two young men, Thomas Running Rabbit, Jr. and Harvey Mad Man, Jr. Various appeal courts overturned the original sentence, but after each re-sentence hearing in 1984, 1992, and 1995, Smith was again sentenced to death.

On May 2 and 3 of this year, Smith’s lawyers will ask the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole for a recommendation to commute Smith’s sentence. The board will make a report that will go to Montana governor Brian Schweitzer.

In 1984, I drove to Kalispell, Montana from Calgary and interviewed Judge Keedy. Today, Mr. Keedy has given up his judicial title and now works fulltime for the New Mexico Public Defenders Office.

Perhaps, most astonishing is his recollection of the involvement by the Canadian government, or lack thereof.

Here is our interview, which was conducted today by email:

Michael H. Keedy photo from Henning, Keedy & Lee website.GrizzlyLaw.com


MHK: You ask about Ronald Allen Smith, and his current bid for executive clemency. I doubt that my impressions of his case are of much consequence now, more than thirty years after Thomas Running Rabbit, Jr. and Harvey Mad Man, Jr. lost their lives, but I’m certainly glad to answer your questions, as ever. By my reckoning, it has been at least twenty-five years since my court had jurisdiction over the case.

Lockeblog: At the US Court of Appeal, Ninth Circuit, Judge Betty B. Fletcher said the following:

“Guilty pleas must be knowing and voluntary. Smith’s fateful decision to plead guilty and seek the death penalty was neither. At the time of the arraignment, he was deeply depressed because he had been in solitary confinement for some time and subjected to harsh living conditions. He had received deaths threats from Native American inmates and believed that he would be killed in prison. Most importantly, his attorney was manifestly ineffective…”

What do you say to her opinion?

MHK: First, with respect to the dissenting opinion from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal, I can only reaffirm my clear-cut conclusion that Mr. Smith’s guilty pleas (in 1983) were knowing, intelligent and voluntary. You’ll recall, probably, that Mr. Smith had his own reasons for soliciting the death penalty at the time, but none of those reasons interfered with the clarity and conclusiveness of his decision-making. If I recall correctly, Mr. Smith’s requests to be found guilty then executed were tendered to the court despite his lawyer’s contrary advice, and his rationale for them was reviewed carefully and in detail by the prosecution, Mr. Smith’s counsel, and by my court. With all due respect for Judge Fletcher and her opinion, therefore, I find no basis for her belief that Mr. Smith would not have pleaded guilty if Mr. Gary G. Doran, his lawyer, had advised him “properly.”

In fact, and as the record will confirm, Mr. Smith later changed his mind about soliciting the death penalty. At a followup hearing, conducted at his request, Mr. Smith was given the opportunity to explain the evolution of his thinking, his strategic reasons for having testified as he did at first, and the newfound bases for his wish to be spared. He also had the benefit of a full-scale psychological evaluation, conducted at his request and presented to the court by his attorney. All of the facts and circumstances surrounding Mr. Smith’s crimes were known, and considered by the court, in determining that the “aggravating factors” supporting the death penalty outweighed any “mitigating factors,” which might have militated against it. As noted in the majority opinion from the Ninth Circuit, I found Mr. Smith’s initial, stated desire to be put to death “nothing more than a curious element”; so it was with his later change of thinking, given the voluntary nature of his pleas and the overwhelming support for them in the record. Finally, and perhaps most telling of all: Even upon further review and reflection, when his desire for mercy was brought to the court’s attention, at no time did Mr. Smith ask that his guilty pleas be withdrawn. Nothing of which I am aware, of record or outside the record, suggests that Mr. Smith did not commit the crimes of which he was found guilty, or that he was less than fully committed to being found guilty, short of trial.

Lockeblog: There is no doubt that Smith’s murder of two young Montana men was horrible. Do you think he should be executed currently?

MHK: The law of the state in which Mr. Smith murdered two young men provided for the death penalty under such circumstances. The sentence Mr. Smith received three decades ago has not been carried out, largely if not exclusively on account of his resistance to it. Meanwhile, presumably, the family and friends of his victims have waited, patiently and quite possibly in excruciating pain, while this grotesque and interminable case has continued to play out, over and again in one court or another, ad infinitum. If there were compelling reasons, in 1983, that Mr. Smith should be executed for his crimes, the passage of time since then has not erased them.

Lockeblog: Do you have any recollection of the Government of Canada’s involvement in this case from the early stages? And if so, what do you remember?

MHK: As far as I can recall, the Canadian government took no role in Mr. Smith’s case in the “early stages,” as you say, or even for a number of years thereafter.

Open letter to the Government of Canada

March 1, 2012

RE: Canadian Ronald Smith on Montana’s Death Row

    Guilty pleas must be knowing and voluntary. Smith’s fateful decision to plead guilty and seek the death penalty was neither. At the time of the arraignment, he was deeply depressed because he had been in solitary confinement for some time and subjected to harsh living conditions. He had received deaths threats from Native American inmates and believed that he would be killed in prison. Most importantly, his attorney was manifestly ineffective,” wrote Judge Betty B. Fletcher of the US Court of Appeal, Ninth Circuit, regarding the pre-trial circumstances of Ron Smith.

    When Ron Smith was convicted by Judge Michael Keedy in 1982, I was a young man in Calgary. I knew there was something wrong with the reports I was reading in the Calgary Herald. Something did not make sense. So I dug a little deeper. I wrote letters to Smith, but he was not particularly open. So I drove down to Kalispell, Montana and met with trial Judge Keedy.

    Judge Keedy was most open. We met in his office and he told me why he sentenced Smith to death. He would not accept Smith’s plea, unless Smith testified against himself. I was shocked by what he disclosed. He encouraged Smith to commit suicide.

    It all goes back to Smith’s treatment before he plead guilty. The Canadian consulate did not rush to Smith’s aid to ensure his legal rights were protected. Again, it was 1982 and Montana was not easily reached by consulate staff. As a result, Smith made a regrettable decision: to plead guilty and request the death penalty. Judge Fletcher’s single paragraph explains why.

    Her full opinion can be read HERE .

    Mitigating factors were not introduced at the sentencing hearing, and Smith got his wish–at least that was his wish at the time. Without the protection of legal counsel, without the protection of consulate services, Smith did something not wise.

    Regardless how repugnant Smith’s acts may have been, under our system of justice, and American justice, a man deserves a fair hearing. That is a foundation of justice. The American courts have not come to this conclusion, sadly.

    Thus, it is imperative that the Government of Canada intervene in a proactive way to ensure the life of Canadian Ron Smith is spared. My only interest in this is to see that Smith receive the benefit of fairness. I am sure this is a value you also embrace.

    I thank you for your time and I would appreciate being apprised of what the Canadian Government is, and has recently done, in respect of Smith’s case.

    Sincerely,

    Jack Locke