Canadian killer's life hangs on clemency plea

The only Canadian facing the death penalty in the United States hopes to persuade the people who will decide his fate he's not the same man he was 30 years ago.

Ron Smith, 54, has been on death row in a Montana prison since 1982 after he and an accomplice were convicted of killing two men in Montana.

Beginning Wednesday, he'll ask for clemency at a two-day hearing before the state's Board of Pardons and Parole.

"The person that committed those crimes isn't sitting here," the Red Deer, Alta., native told CBC's Mark Kelley in an interview to be aired on CBC News Network Tuesday night. "And again, I'm not trying to downplay the crime.

"I had a moment where emotions and anger got the best of me and I committed a horrible crime. That doesn't define me. If you want to define me, then take a look at the 30 years," he said.

A drug-addicted drifter at the time, Smith and an accomplice, both of them high on LSD and alcohol, marched the two men, Running Rabbit and Mad Man Jr., into the woods near East Glacier, Mont., and shot them in the head. Smith said he shot the men just to know how it felt to take a life and because he wanted to steal their car.

Since Smith was sentenced to death, the Board of Pardons and Parole has received a flood of letters and emails in favour of granting Smith clemency, including a letter the federal government was required to send after a Federal Court judge ruled it had to get involved in the case.

"Since Canada got rid of the death sentence in 1967 or whenever it was, they'd been backing Canadians with a death sentence fervently," Smith told Kelley during the interview taped on Monday. "And just all of a sudden they completely pulled the rug out from underneath me."

During the interview with Kelley, Smith acknowledged he had asked to be executed shortly after he was convicted.

"I kicked myself for asking for the death sentence," Smith said, "but at the time that's what I thought I needed and deserved — and that's what I wanted."

Smith said he's not expecting to be forgiven by those who suffered from his crime.

"I took two members of their families, and I took them completely out of their lives. I don't think I could forgive me for it, and I don't expect them to forgive me."