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Execution stay granted for Canadian

CALGARY - The only Canadian on death row in the United States has won another stay in the setting of an execution date for the murder of two young Montana men more than a quarter of a century ago.

CALGARY - The only Canadian on death row in the United States has won another stay in the setting of an execution date for the murder of two young Montana men more than a quarter of a century ago.

A hearing had been scheduled for this week in Deer Lodge, Mont., to set a new execution date for Ronald Smith, 53, originally from Red Deer, Alta.

But an outstanding lawsuit, launched on Smith's behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union two years ago challenging the lethal injection procedure the state uses in executions, has prompted a stay in setting an execution date.

The ACLU contends that death by lethal injection is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

"The lead counsel for Ron, together with the attorney-general's office, entered into a stipulation whereby the execution itself and any proceedings regarding the execution date would be stayed," Smith's lawyer, Greg Jackson, told The Canadian Press.

"That provides that things will be stayed until essentially the completion of the lethal injection case and that would be either the completion of the appeal to the Montana Supreme Court or the running of the appeal time to the Supreme Court."

The case is on hold until Montana State Prison completes the construction of a new death chamber and establishes the protocol that will be used in future executions.

"The litigation cannot proceed until Montana's complete the construction of that new chamber," he said.

"I think it's likely to be a period of months. How many months we can't say right now."

Smith was convicted of fatally shooting two cousins, Harvey Madman Jr. and Thomas Running Rabbit, while he was high on drugs and alcohol near East Glacier, Mont., in 1982.

He refused a plea deal that would have seen him avoid death row but spend his life in prison. Three weeks later, he pleaded guilty, then asked for and was given a death sentence.

But Smith later had a change of heart and has been on a legal roller-coaster for the last 25 years. He has already been sentenced to death four times and had the order overturned on three occasions.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his final appeal, so it has been sent back to the State of Montana to set another date for execution.

Jackson said it is a small victory at this point.

"Obviously we would like all the possible remedies pursued prior to the court proceeding with any setting of any execution date so this is something that in our view is necessary," Jackson said.

The latest development puts on hold any petition for clemency to the Board of Parole and Pardons and ultimately to Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Canadian courts forced Stephen Harper's Conservative government to seek clemency for Smith last year after Ottawa initially balked at stepping in. Canada's consul general, Dale Eisler, met with the governor to make the request in June.

The Canadian government also has the option to make an argument at the clemency hearing.

 
 
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