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Montana religious leaders work to save a man from execution

Montana religious leaders work to save a man from execution

Montana clergy, including Episcopal Bishop The Rt. Rev. Franklin C. Brookhart, are working together to save the only Canadian in an American death-row from execution.

The Times-Colonist reports:

While Canada’s Conservative government is still weighing whether to comply with a Federal Court order and resume efforts to seek clemency for the only Canadian on death row in the U.S., a coalition of Montana religious leaders has launched its own bid to help abolish capital punishment in their state.

The Montana clergy are backing a bill that would save Alberta-born killer Ronald Smith from execution.

Renewed debate over capital punishment and the fate of Smith produced oddly divergent arguments in the two countries last week, with the Conservative government here accusing opposition MPs of being too sympathetic to killers while the alliance of Montana clergy decried the “morally corrosive” effects of state-sanctioned executions.

At the centre of both debates is the 51-year-old Smith, who on Wednesday won a lawsuit against the Canadian government over its October 2007 decision to stop helping him avoid death by lethal injection at the Montana State Prison, where he’s been jailed since his conviction for the 1982 murders of Blackfoot Indian men Thomas Running Rabbit and Harvey Mad Man.

Smith’s case was also in the spotlight in Montana last week as legislators there moved toward a historic vote next month that could abolish the death penalty and reduce Smith’s sentence to life in prison with no possibility of parole.

At a news conference on Thursday in the northern Montana city of Great Falls, a coalition of 80 religious leaders urged the state’s House of Representatives to pass an abolition bill that has already cleared the Senate.

“I have seen no research that indicates that (the death penalty) acts as a deterrent to violent crime,” Rev. Franklin Brookhart, Bishop of Montana for the Anglican-affiliated Episcopal Church, argued in a letter to state legislators. “I cannot see how it makes us a better nation, that is, a more compassionate and fair society. And it clearly does not set a good example for individual conduct or moral maturity.”

He added: “For Christians, vengeance is no virtue.”

A joint letter signed by the alliance of Montana preachers, priests and rabbis argued that capital punishment has “consistently proved to be ineffective, unfair and inaccurate,” resulting in a disproportionate number of executions among minority groups and the tragic deaths of some inmates later proved to have been wrongfully convicted.


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In cases like this, I think it’s hard to remember that Smith is made in the image of God, the same as every one of us. To kill a defenseless human being in a situation such as this is a grave moral wrong.

– Eric Bonetti

James Pirrung-Mikolajczyk

“Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at [him].” -Jn 8:7, NRSV


James Pirrung-Mikolajczyk

James Pirrung-Mikolajczyk

“Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” -Jn 8:7, NRSV

Rod Gillis

Hi Chris, what do I want? I’d like for the world what Canada has, what a number of American States have, what human rights groups want, what some of my colleagues in Montana appear to want, and that is the abolition of the death penalty world wide.

I’d also like our neo-con Federal government to abide by the fundamental principles of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, rather than dragging their feet and gaming the system.

If that means that a convicted murderer is eventually allowed to serve out his sentence in a Canadian prison, then I can live with that. The crime of murder takes the same kind of heinous and disturbing face in Canada as it does everywhere else–thankfully justice can be administered without state sponsored killings.

Chris H.

Smith originally asked for the death penalty and refused to plead guilty to a lesser charge to avoid it. Then he pleaded guilty to the charge that included the death penalty at his request. That should have ended it right there. Smith is white and the men he murdered were Native Americans so they want the maximum sentence to prove that a white man does have to pay for murdering Natives and the bit about the death penalty being used prejudicially against minorities doesn’t apply. Just the opposite, whites don’t pay is how it looks to them. Justice looks different to different eyes.

As for Canada, they waited 14 years before they asked for clemency the first time and stopped asking right about the time they found their serial killer pig farmer, and the same time Smith had been in jail for 25 years, Canada’s maximum sentence, I believe. Coincidence? If Canada convinces MT to follow Canadian law, do we send him North and free? Apparently they don’t want him back. You do Rod?

Chris Harwood

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