Document suggests no clemency for inmate

CALGARY, Alberta – The only Canadian on death row in the United States has a clemency hearing in less than a month, but a document obtained by the Canadian Press suggests he may have already lost his bid before the arguments begin.

The four-page document written by a Montana Board of Pardons and Paroles staff member reviews the case and recommends against granting Ron Smith’s request that his life be spared.

“Smith does not meet any of the commutation criteria as outlined in the BOPP administrative rules,” the document reads. “Smith hasn’t demonstrated an extended period of exemplary performance and there doesn’t appear to be any extraordinary mitigating or extenuating circumstances that would constitute the exceptional remedy such as commutation.

“It is recommended that the request for a commutation of sentence be denied.”

The document was mailed to Smith’s lawyers by mistake and they are infuriated.

“They’re playing with a stacked deck but what are you going to do?” said Don Vernay, who works out of Albuquerque, N.M., and is co-counsel for Smith.

“You’re going in there and you know you’ve got an uphill battle but, God almighty, when you know they want to kill your client before you can get in the door – that really stinks.”

The document sent to Smith’s lawyers does not represent the board’s final decision, executive director Fern Osler said. She said it was written by a staff member to provide information to the three-member board and was sent to Smith’s team in error.

“It is just a staff recommendation that we do in every executive clemency hearing and in every parole board hearing. The staff reviews the file and makes a recommendation. That’s just a review of the file,” Osler said.

She said the decision is not predetermined and the testimony at the hearing in early May will be considered in the board’s final decision.

The board is holding a two-day clemency hearing for Smith, 54, starting May 2 in Deer Lodge, Mont.

The final decision on whether Smith, of Red Deer, Alberta, lives or dies will fall to Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer. The board is to make a recommendation after the hearing.

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.

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