The countdown begins for Ronald Smith: What will Brian, and the state of Montana do?

By Duganz

Ronald Smith is set to die on January 31, 2011. That’s 88 days.

His final sentence came down yesterday in Deer Lodge, Montana, two days after a Helena judge imposed an injunction staying Smith’s execution.

But there are many more issues behind this: the state doesn’t have any sodium thiopental on hand to kill Smith, nor does the state have a place to execute Smith since they took Montana’s least homely trailer off its foundation–not to mention that Smith’s attorney’s filed papers back in January arguing that executing someone in a trailer, without medical staff was wrong (thus the injunction). So there’s that.

So what will happen now? District Judge John Larson says it’ll be up to the State Supreme Court to figure out which order needs to be followed.

Meanwhile, Smith’s attorneys will send a clemency request to the Board of Pardons within the next 10 days. The BoP will recommend to Brian what they think is the correct choice. Ultimately Brian will decide what to do. And we already know his answer: Kill.

It’s going to be a long couple of months for Ronald Smith, and it will be interesting to see how everything works out legally–and with international relations. It’s also interesting to read the international spin on this. From  the Toronto Sun:

“We’ll have to start a fairly elaborate planning process which begins with identifying staff to volunteer,” said [Montana State Prison Warden Mike] Mahoney.

Executions aren’t in the prison job description, so Mahoney needs people willing to work the equipment.

“We’ll have a meeting to ask for volunteers — by law, the only one who’s required to be involved is me.”

You might expect the warden to be a man hardened to the task, but Mahoney admits his three visits to the death chamber have been the worst part of his job.

“It’s without question the most difficult thing that I have to do as the warden,” said Mahoney.

“I can’t speak for other people who witness it, but you walk into a room, and when you walk out again, someone has lost their life.

“That, I think, is a life-changing experience — you know what will happen, but when it does, it’s a very profound moment.”

A callous killer of killers, Mahoney isn’t.

As an aside, I think it should be mentioned that Mike Mahoney is carrying a terrible burden on his shoulders, and I can’t imagine how difficult his day is just knowing that he’s going to go through it. Again. I truly wish that even if you’re a person for executing Smith, you take a moment to think of Mr. Mahoney, and how this will weigh on him.

And while you do that, read this:

The warden expresses sympathy for staff at the prison where Smith has lived since 1983, when he pleaded guilty to the murders of Thomas Running Rabbit Jr. and Harvey Mad Man Jr..

Twenty-seven years is a long time to get to know someone. In a facility filled with difficult criminals, Mahoney says Smith — now a grandfather — has always been an easy inmate to work with.

“This is a guy who we’ve provided custody and care for years, and that’s another dimension people don’t often think about,” said Mahoney.

“You’re not satisfying the order of a court on some total stranger — this is a person that all of us have dealt with for a good number of years, and staff would tell you he’s been a fairly easy inmate to deal with.”

If Mahoney is worried about his staff, the warden is also concerned about Smith’s reaction to the looming execution date.

“We obviously will be concerned about his state of mind, so we’ll have the mental health staff go around, to see if he has a desire to speak to anyone in that capacity, or a clergyman,” said Mahoney.

Those are some tough words to read, and I think a tough concept for people “on the outside” to understand. Having worked with incarcerated felons (several summers working at Montana State Hospital) I can say that eventually, for the most part, you stop thinking about people as murderers, and criminals, and start thinking of them as “the guy really good at cribbage” and “the one with the dirtiest jokes.” It’s the only way you can deal with that population: by remembering each day that no matter what they did, they are here now, and you’ve got to deal with them or find a new job. In Deer Lodge, Butte, and Anaconda, a “new job” is sometimes not gonna happen, especially with the benefits the state provides, so people adapt.

So whether or not you see Ronald Smith as human, someone working at MSP does. They may even see him as a person that — in another situation — they’d count as a friend. That’s a price for the death penalty that we’re not wont to talk about, and I’m glad the Sun brings it up.

But no matter what we all still have one question to answer: Is state-sanctioned murder okay?

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  1. Ingemar Johansson

    Haven’t you heard?

    The Gov. is a Republican now.

  2. Pronghorn

    Granted, the warden carries a heavy burden. But no one is making him do it, and if he were truly morally opposed to administering the death penalty, he’d have already found a different occupation. Instead, he’ll be administering death for the fourth time. You said it yourself, Duganz…” you’ve got to deal with them (inmates) or find a new job.” The same goes for the warden. He has to deal with it (meting out death) or find a new job. Regardless of how hard and sobering it might be, he obviously has reconciled himself to carrying out executions.

    • Completely agree Pronghorn. I wasn’t trying to paint him as having no choices. I was only including that to illustrate how much state sanctioned killing things weighs on those involved. I hoped that in doing so people would think of the ripple effect caused by state sanctioned murder. Sure, “justice” is served, but it hurts a lot of people that never see the needle.

      • Pronghorn

        Actually, I understood your motivation in bringing to light the ripple effect, and it’s a good point that you make–state-sanctioned killing does not involve just one life but affects many…all of us, IMO. (Ask not for whom the bell tolls, etc.) And no, we don’t forget the huge, awful, life-changing effect already wrought upon the lives of the victims’ families–they have every right to expect justice served for a heinous crime.

        But vengeance isn’t justice, so I’m glad that you put “justice” in quotation marks, since only the most primitive justice can be found in a retributive act like the death penalty. The concept of equivalency moves us beyond Old Testament retribution and beyond Beowulf’s blood vengeance, and allows us to end a self-directed life without taking one through lifetime incarceration without parole…which has the added bonus of a live human being to exonerate in those cases where mistakes were made.

        • And, when people are allowed to live, well….

          From Matthew Shepard’s father during Aaron McKinney’s sentencing:

          “I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney. However, this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy. To use this as the first step in my own closure about losing Matt. Mr. McKinney, I am not doing this because of your family. I am definitely not doing this because of the crass and unwarranted pressures put on by the religious community. If anything, that hardens my resolve to see you die. Mr. McKinney, I’m going to grant you life, as hard as that is for me to do, because of Matthew. Every time you celebrate Christmas, a birthday, or the Fourth of July, remember that Matt isn’t. Every time that you wake up in that prison cell, remember that you had the opportunity and the ability to stop your actions that night. Every time that you see your cell mate, remember that you had a choice, and now you are living that choice. You robbed me of something very precious, and I will never forgive you for that. Mr. McKinney, I give you life in the memory of one who no longer lives. May you have a long life, and may you thank Matthew every day for it.”

          Dennis Shepard was in terrible pain, but showed mercy. Yes, he showed mercy for spite, but mercy nonetheless. And that action — that human capacity for mercy — is what makes us better than animals.

          Read the entire statement here: http://tinyurl.com/d3wed2

  3. petetalbot

    This is a tough one. I philosophically agree with your premise: the state has no business meting out death.

    Then I’ll read about someone, like that guy a few years ago who kidnapped those kids at Wolf Lodge, Idaho, killed their folks, and then killed the boy (after torturing him), and continued to abuse the girl until he was caught at a restaurant in Coeur d’Alene.

    Emotionally, I’d say this guy has to go. It’s these stories that turn death penalty opponents into death penalty supporters.

    Of course, the answer to your question, “Is state-sanctioned murder okay?” the answer is “no.” But I can see how folks view this differently.

    I didn’t realize that Schweitzer had already committed to taking Smith’s life, though I’m not surprised. A stay of execution doesn’t really fit the cowboy persona but like Warden Mahoney, I’ll bet it weighs on Brian, too.

  4. petetalbot

    This is a tough one. I philosophically agree with your premise: the state has no business meting out death.

    Then I’ll read about someone, like that guy a few years ago who kidnapped those kids at Wolf Lodge, Idaho, killed their folks, and then killed the boy (after torturing him), and continued to abuse the girl until he was caught at a restaurant in Coeur d’Alene.

    Emotionally, I’d say this guy has to go. It’s these stories that turn death penalty opponents into death penalty supporters.

    Of course, the answer to your question, “Is state-sanctioned murder okay?” is “no.” But I can see how folks view this differently.

    I didn’t realize that Schweitzer had already committed to taking Smith’s life, though I’m not surprised. A stay of execution doesn’t really fit the cowboy persona but like Warden Mahoney, I’ll bet it weighs on Brian, too.

  5. mr benson

    What will Brian do? Probably start with a litany of all the national media enamored with his corny act, the trot out “nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rockin chairs” or some other homespun homily, and then fly off to appear on a talk show at taxpayer expense.

  6. You really want an answer to that? Did you forget what this man did? He took two young men who stopped to give him a life and shot each one in the back of the head? I don’t know if the “state” should kill this man, but have YOU considered the cost of this person to the state of Montana and your pocketbook? No, that’s not important, but how much has been spent to repair the damage to his victims, not just in terms of money, but to in terms of heartbreak? I’ll bet not a dime. And what about the cocaine racket cranking on government property in Missoula? Same questions. And the rape of the young lady in the high school that was swept under the rug. But the question you really should be asking is what happens to all of us in the afterlife? Oh, what afterlife, yeah, I forgot, this blog is all about painting “Christians” as religious nuts and haters. Oh, but I have to tell you that it isn’t that simple. There definitely is a God and Jesus, they are far more real than this flash in the pan, and what happens after that, well, that’s what you’d better be thinking about. Or just don’t listen…

  7. Allow me to provide some answers:

    Yes; no; that’s not a question; yes; you would have to ask the families about whether or not they sought therapy or counseling; cocaine racket(?); you meant to use a question mark when referring to the high school girl, but I don’t know anything about that, Alan, however if you know about an unreported rape it’s your responsibility to report it; I did for a while, but then I found something good on TV.

    I can’t speak for everyone on this blog, but I don’t paint all Christians as nuts, only the ones who are. But more than that, thank you for again proving just how immoral someone can be and still be a believer. Again, if you know of an unreported rape it is your responsibility to report it (as would a government supported cocaine racket that I’m 99 percent sure exists only in your head).

    Also, if you make any libelous comments like that again I will see that you are banned from commenting here. It’s one thing to have an opinion, it’s another to just make shit up.

    • Oops. I hadn’t had enough coffee. I meant to say, “…a government supported cocaine racket that I’m *140* percent sure exists only in your *unmedicated* head.”

  8. Pronghorn

    For those who are Christian and also for the death penalty, one simple question suffices: What would Jesus do?

    I’ve heard this woman speak in Missoula during a MT Abolition Coalition gathering–Marietta Jaeger Lane. She has dedicated her life to abolishing the death penalty, even though her small daughter was brutally murdered decades ago in MT. Even here she brings tears to my eyes:

    “He who seeks vengeance must dig two graves: one for his enemy and one for himself.”

  9. Pronghorn

    Duganz said (correct me if these aren’t your words), “Dennis Shepard was in terrible pain, but showed mercy. Yes, he showed mercy for spite, but mercy nonetheless. And that action — that human capacity for mercy — is what makes us better than animals.”

    I have to object to this. Mercy might be a distinction that makes us different from other animals, but certainly not better. If you believe that animals don’t possess mercy, then you also believe that they don’t possess malice. If they don’t kill or exploit their own kind or other species out of malice, then they’re already better than we are…see how this line of thought plays out?

    Likewise, if we humans possess the capacity for mercy but don’t use it, what does that say about us? How damning is that? If we were truly “better” because of our mercy, then factory farms would not exist–there would be no merciless humans to run and profit from the hellholes, and no millions of merciless consumers to eagerly eat products derived from the incalculable suffering of billions of sentient beings.

    • That’s an unfair comparison — animals not having malice — because animals are animals. They are not capable of higher brain emotions. They kill one another for food. They battle of territory (They do not rationalize this as being for oil or mineral wealth).

      Humans are capable of complex rational. Your dog (and a factory farm chicken for that matter) is not.

      That’s not to say I think factory farming is good (not at all), or that I don’t love my dog (Follow her at twitter.com/CJDuganz). I just don’t want to give human feelings to animals, and if that’s what my prior comment did, please allow me to rescind it. Humans are humans, regardless of their abilities to act like it. Chickens are chickens.

      • To both duganz and pronghorn: I don’t know that mercy should have anything to do with it. Mercy implies the weighing of some sort of judgment as if guilt weighs to the decision.

        Either it is right/correctt/moral to take a life or it isn’t.

        • That’s a good point. Ultimately mercy isn’t the essence of the choice to not use the death penalty for a society (that does come down to killing is wrong). But I do think it’s mercy for the individual (Like Dennis Shepard).

        • Pronghorn

          You know, it was merely a derailment from the death penalty discussion, on which Duganz and I are assuredly on the same page. The animal discussion can take place another day in another thread. And I agree that for the wronged to show mercy doesn’t change the moral implication of state-sanctioned murder…but it IS a humbling and awesome gesture to witness.

          • I wasn’t trying to derail the discussion (!?) If anything I was saying that eiither you are against it – and given duganz’s word choice of state-sanctioned, I’m pretty sure he is – or you are for the death penalty. That’s the decision. That’s Governor Schweitzer’s decision.

            Guilt is noise in the background on the issue. It’s immoral to intentionally take a life. That’s what state-sanctioned death is.

            He’s pawning it off on the victims’ family.

            • First, I have had an issue with this line of reasoning since this discussion began. The Governor is NOT the one that made the decision to put this person to death – a jury of this man’s peers already did that. The Governor has to make the decision of whether there is any reason to delay or commute this sentance – and there are specific guidelines to help him make that decision. If you have such an issue with this, the people you should be directing your ire on are the people that made the decision to put this individual to death or on the legislators that can change the law removing the death penalty as a viable option. I have plenty of reasons to have issue with the Gov, but this isn’t one of them.

              • If there were specific rules he had to follow, he wouldn’t be pawning it off on the family – remember, he’s deferring to the families’ wishes.

                He is given the power, under our constitution, to make a choice whether to halt the execution. He is making a choice, whether he stops the execution or not.

                His choice is NOT guilt – that was the power of the courts, and I have said that – his choice is whether he will, as executive empowered to decide, whether he will allow the death penalty to be carried out in the name of Montana.

                I asked a friend the other day – he’s pretty concise with is words – what his thought were on the death penalty. I had a feeling he was the type of person who had really thought it out – and here’s what he said:

                I don’t trust my government enough decide whether to kill me or not.

              • Again, the decision was already made by the jury. His only decision is whether he is going to override the Judicial system. Were I in his position, I would have to have some pretty compelling reasons to invalidate the established law.

                As I said before, if you are as committed to preventing this execution (or future executions), I would address the system that give the death penalty as an option. Contact your representatives or start a citizen initiative to remove the death penalty.

              • There should be no more compelling reason than to prevent a kill. I can’t think of a better one.

            • Pronghorn

              Oh dear, sometimes e-mail and internet discussions just go bad. I wasn’t accusing you of derailing the discussion–I meant to say that the exchange between Duganz & me (about people being better than animals) was a diversion or derailment from the death penalty discussion.

      • The Polish Wolf

        So the morality of an animal depends on the number of neuron connections in their brain?

        Atheism is an imminently reasonable position, but it makes much more difficult a clear distinction between humans and animals. Perhaps with our higher number of neuron connections we imagine ourselves to have a self-consciousness that makes us different than animals, when in fact it merely makes it harder to predict our actions, creating the illusion of consciousness.

  10. Ingemar Johansson

    “The needle tears the hole”

    So long scumbag.

    • JC

      Um, I think you miss the meaning of Johnny Cash covering Nine Inch Nail’s song here entirely. It was his search for redemption, and a life filled with his own addiction and the troubles they caused him and others. FWIW, I think this rendition of Hurt is the pinnacle of his career, just months before his death. I perform it often, along with several other Johnny Cash tunes.

      Hurt

      I hurt myself today
      To see if I still feel
      I focus on the pain
      The only thing that’s real
      The needle tears a hole
      The old familiar sting
      Try to kill it all away
      But I remember everything

      What have I become
      My sweetest friend
      Everyone I know
      goes away
      In the end
      And you could have it all
      My empire of dirt
      I will let you down
      I will make you hurt

      I wear this crown of thorns
      Upon my liar’s chair
      Full of broken thoughts
      I cannot repair
      Beneath the stains of time
      The feelings disappear
      You are someone else
      I am still right here

      What have I become
      My sweetest friend
      Everyone I know
      goes away
      In the end
      And you could have it all
      My empire of dirt
      I will let you down
      I will make you hurt

      If I could start again
      A million miles away
      I would keep myself
      I would find a way
      —————————–

      A good christian like yourself does believe in redemption, do you not, Big Ingy?

      • The Polish Wolf

        ‘Christians’ may not appreciate a man playing to entertain prisoners, but (as pointed out in “Walk the Line”, if not by Johnny himself in real life), Christ would. Indeed, one of the few times Christ references Hell directly, it is a place for those who refuse to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or visit the lonely in prison.

        What struck me about the article was the bit about the mental health of Ronald Smith. I think the most eloquent attacks on capital punishment were made by Dostoevsky, because he experienced the trauma of waiting for an execution but lived to tell about it. In his opinion the waiting for the execution is worse than the execution itself, especially since many people try to kill themselves at that point anyway.

        On the other hand, Dostoevsky was a despicable racist. I do think the state has to kill in certain circumstances, but every time it does, it involves all of us. I think calling Smith a rapid dog is wrong – he is a human. If we kill him, we have to take seriously his humanity, and knowing he is a human, and accepting that sometimes humans need to be killed. But considering he hasn’t been a real risk to anyone for years, I don’t see how this is one of those times. There exist people with the right to kill him, I don’t doubt that at all, but having the state do it involves all of us, and I think it is unjust to include Duganz and those who think like him in killing a man whose continued life poses no threat to us.

      • Ingemar Johansson

        It used the Tube for numerous reasons, the simplest was the reference to the needle.

        Could Smith be the singer? Could he be asking for redemption? Time will tell. I wouldn’t fault him if like the thief (dying, next to Jesus) he asked for forgiveness.

        ” The first thief then turns to Jesus and says, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” (Luke 23:42) To him Jesus said, “Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)”

        You guys did broach the subject first.

    • That song is about heroin, Mr. Johansson. (And it is amazing, JC.)




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