Crime & Courts

Nov 4, 2010 11:33 AM by Beth Saboe (KPAX)

Execution date set for MT death row inmate Smith

A Missoula judge has set an execution date for Ronald Smith, who has been on death row in Montana for 26 years.

District Court Judge John Larson ordered that Smith be put to death on January 31, 2011, but he's turning the matter over to the Montana Supreme Court for the final say.

Smith, 53, was sentenced to death after pleading guilty to killing two men in 1982 near Marias Pass.

Though Judge Larson issued an execution date, a Helena judge stayed Smith's execution by an injunction on Monday, thereby creating a conflict.

Larson called the situation "uncharted territory" and says he will ask the Supreme Court for direction.

Smith's attorney Ron Waterman explained, "We have an execution date that was set today, and on Monday we had an injunction issued that told the Department of Corrections not to carry out any executions that are issued, so they are in conflict with each other."

Waterman hopes the Supreme Court will rule on the underlying constitutional issue of whether lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment.

In the meantime, prison warden Mike Mahoney says his focus is now on preparing his staff and Smith for an execution that may happen in less than 90 days.

Mahoney noted, "I'm sure he's a little surprised by the January 31st date. We obviously, with our protocol and preparing, we'll be talking with him about the mechanical things that will be involved with him relative to this process."

If his death sentence is carried out, Smith will become the fourth prisoner to be executed since the death penalty was reinstated in Montana in the 1970s.