Yesterday, the Montana Pardons and Parole Board recommended denying clemency to death row inmate Ronald Smith.
Discussion of the death penalty in Montana during this process has naturally focused on Smith's case, the family of his victims and his own family.
But it's important to remember that the debate over the death penalty is bigger than any one case or any one person. It's about larger issues of justice, equal treatment and what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
That's why the ACLU of Montana is a partner in the Montana Abolition Coalition, a group of diverse organizations working to end the death penalty in Montana, including the Montana Human Rights Network, the Montana Catholic Conference and the Montana Association of Churches.
The ACLU isn't involved in Smith's defense, but we are suing the state in a case involving him and Montana's other death row inmate, William Gollehon, challenging the state's lethal injection procedure.
Under Montana law and in Montana State Prison execution protocol the prison warden has sole discretion to choose who executes prisoners. Executioners need not even be trained physicians or nurses. The new protocol does mandate familiarity with intravenous drug administration, but contains no details about where or how the "set-up" officer administering the complicated three-drug lethal injection protocol is to be trained.
The consequences if that protocol is improperly administered are grave. Should the fast-acting barbiturate be improperly prepared or administered, a prisoner could be fully conscious and in excruciating pain when the paralytic agent is injected. Such a situation clearly violates the Constitutional right to be free from cruel or unusual punishment.
The court has issued a stay of execution for Smith which will remain in place until the case is resolved, regardless of whether Gov. Brian Schweitzer grants him clemency or not.
The death penalty is simply a system that is beyond repair. From the painful ways inmates are executed, the preponderance of poor and minority people sentenced to die, innocent people put to death (so far more than 130 death row prisoners have been exonerated in the United States) to the high financial cost to states and high emotional costs to victims' families put through years of court proceedings, the death penalty simply does not work.
Please join us in our work to end capital punishment in Montana. Join the Montana Abolition Coalition today.