Ronald Smith is led into a Montana courthouse on May 2, 2012.
Credits: STUART DRYDEN/CALGARY SUN/QMI AGENCY
CALGARY - Despite a recommendation that his final bid for clemency be rejected, convicted Canadian killer Ronald Smith is still years away from execution, his lawyer said Tuesday.
In a letter to Gov. Brian Schweitzer made public Monday, the Montana Board of Pardons recommends unanimously against Smith's final clemency bid following a May 2 hearing.
Smith's lawyer, Don Vernay, said the ultimate decision whether Smith will be executed or his sentence commuted to life in prison now rests with Schweitzer.
There's no official timetable for that decision, but with Schweitzer's second term over at the end of the year and him unable to run for re-election because of term limits, Vernay expects a decision will be made "sooner than that."
"He's a Democrat, which is a plus, obviously - but he supports the death penalty," Vernay said.
"I'm inclined to think it will be before the end of the summer, but I can't say with any great degree of certainty."
Even if Schweitzer upholds the execution order, it will still be years before Smith is put to death, Vernay said.
"There's a civil case challenging Montana's protocol for executing people," he said.
"The judge who is hearing that case has granted a stay on all executions in Montana until this case is litigated to conclusion.
"It goes to trial in the fall and we don't know when we'll get a decision on that and that decision will be appealed to the Montana Supreme Court.
"If we win it will be appealed by the state and if we lose, we'll appeal it."
Smith took news of the rejection recommendation as well as could be expected, Vernay said.
"People at the prison indicate he took it with equanimity, knowing this has happened before," he said.
"We're always hopeful, but it's not unexpected."
Smith was convicted on two counts of intentional homicide and aggravated kidnapping in the Aug. 4, 1982, shooting deaths of Harvey Mad Man and Thomas Running Rabbit.
He and another man, Rodney Munro, met the pair while playing pool and killed them while drunk and high to steal their car.
Smith demanded the death penalty after he was convicted but said he had a change of heart after coming down off the drugs and alcohol.
Munro agreed to a plea deal and was sentenced to life in prison.
He was released on parole more than 10 years ago.