On a summer day in 1982, Ronald Allen Smith, a 24-year-old Canadian man hitchhiking his way across Montana, marched two young Blackfeet men, Harvey Mad Man and Thomas Running Rabbit, into the woods near Marias Pass and shot them both in the head.
Smith and his two accomplices then stole the dead men's car and left their bodies behind, like garbage on the side of the highway.
"He shot Thomas first," Carol Arrow Top said, though it's unclear how the young men's aunt could know such things. "Did Harvey beg for his life? 'Don't kill me. Please don't kill me.' We don't know that. We don't know those last seconds, what happened to those boys."
In a prison cell in Deer Lodge, Ronald Smith waits for answers of his own. Smith had said he is a changed man that time and renewed connections with his family have softened him. In six weeks, Smith will appear before the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole. For Smith, it could be his last chance to request leniency from Gov. Brian Schweitzer the only person who has the authority to halt his execution since Smith has exhausted his appeals.
During a change of plea hearing in 1983, Smith took sole responsibility for the murders of Mad Man and Running Rabbit. He rejected a plea bargain agreement state prosecutors had offered him, asking instead for the death penalty. One month later, the court granted Smith's request. He was sentenced to hang at the state penitentiary in Deer Lodge, with his execution set for May 9, 1983.
But Smith changed his mind. Three weeks after his sentencing hearing, Smith asked the court to reconsider, stating his request for the death penalty was prompted by depression and mental instability caused by the conditions of his incarceration.
Smith has appealed his sentence seven times since 1983, variously arguing that Montana's method of execution is unconstitutional, that he received ineffective legal council and that a variety of mitigating circumstances warrant the commutation of his sentence.
And with each new legal challenge, Smith's name and image are broadcast in both the United States and Canada. As the only Canadian citizen on death row in the United States, Smith's case has drawn widespread attention from groups opposed to the death penalty. The Canadian government has repeatedly intervened in the case, pressuring Montana's governor to grant Smith clemency. Smith has now outlived most immediate family members of Mad Man and Running Rabbit.
"Harvey's mother, Darlene Home Gun, died almost one year to the day after the funeral," said Gabe Grant, Home Gun's brother and an uncle to both murder victims. "Alcohol contributed to her death, but she drank out of sorrow and all the heartbreaks that came from having known what happened to her son. I believe that she succumbed to a broken heart. The entire immediate family of Thomas Running Rabbit is gone. Thomas Running Rabbit Senior passed away a few years ago, and Thomas' mother, Katrina, and his two brothers are all deceased. The traumatic effects of these boys' murders on individual families cannot be overstated."
Mad Man's and Running Rabbit's families also expressed a deepening frustration with the slow pace of the criminal justice system, and with what they view as biased news coverage that has forgotten the true victims.
"He gets a big write up he gets his picture taken," Allen Talks About said of Smith. Talks About is the uncle of Mad Man and Running Rabbit, and he was the first person to locate their bodies. "You never hear anything from us. The press never asks us anything. It's all about him."
"You can see prejudice in the media," said the victims' cousin, Debbie White Grass. "If it was a Native American man who did the crime, there'd be nothing to talk about nothing. It doesn't even have to be spelled out. You can read between the lines what's happening."
Mad Man and Running Rabbit were two young men with promising futures ahead of them, according to their family members. They were cousins from a close-knit family and, as children, they played together often, riding horses, fishing in Cut Bank Creek and going hunting with their uncles.
"They were friends, they were cousins, they were brothers," Arrow Top said. "Harvey was a kind kid. He was a gentle person. He wanted knowledge. He asked a lot of questions."
Running Rabbit, the younger of the two, was more outgoing than Mad Man. Arrow Top described Running Rabbit as a "happy-go-lucky" kid who excelled at baseball, and who took time to teach his younger cousins the finer points of the game.
By 1982, both young men had graduated from high school and were pursuing college degrees at schools in Missoula and Billings. Running Rabbit, 20, was a statewide officer in a Catholic youth organization and had already started a family. His daughter, Jessica, was just a toddler. Running Rabbit's second child, Thomas Jr., was born in June 1982. Mad Man, 23, didn't have any children.
On Aug. 4, the two men borrowed their grandmother's 1977 Ford LTD and drove out of Browning. Though the rest of their family wasn't sure where the two men were headed, they guessed that Mad Man and Running Rabbit might be going to Great Falls to check out the Montana State Fair.
According to a court affidavit, Ronald Smith, 24, Rodney (James) Munro, 21, and Andre Fontaine, 19, crossed the Canadian border into Montana earlier that same day. The three men planned to hitchhike to California, leaving behind troubled pasts in Red Deer, Alberta.
Smith had amassed a lengthy criminal record. His application for executive clemency states that prior to the summer of 1982, Smith was convicted of 10 crimes in Canada, mostly consisting of misdemeanor theft and drug offenses. The clemency application also states that Smith had taken the hallucinogenic drug LSD before and after crossing into the United States. He also smuggled a sawed-off .22 caliber rifle across the border.
According to Judge Ted O. Lympus, security along the border was far more lax 30 years ago than today. Lympus currently presides on the bench of the Montana 9th Judicial District Court in Kalispell, but in 1982 he was the Flathead County attorney and the man who led the prosecution of Smith.
"Back in those days, the border was pretty much open," Lympus said. "They (Smith, Munro and Fontaine) were on foot, so they probably just walked across."
By early afternoon, the three Canadians made it to East Glacier Park. There, they met Mad Man and Running Rabbit at the Park Bar. The group of young men drank beer and played a few games of pool. Smith, Munro and Fontaine later left the bar and started hitchhiking west on U.S. Highway 2. About 15 minutes later, Running Rabbit and Mad Man left the Park Bar and drove in the same direction, possibly intending to head to another bar in Flathead County.
"They saw those three Canadians 'there's our friends we met at the bar, let's give them a ride," Grant said.
Mad Man and Running Rabbit picked up Smith, Munro and Fontaine. For unknown reasons, Mad Man and Running Rabbit stopped their car a couple of miles past the Continental Divide and got out of the vehicle. According to Munro's testimony at trial, the three hitchhikers discussed killing the two men and stealing their car while the two Blackfeet men were outside the car. When Running Rabbit and Mad Man returned, Smith pulled out his rifle and put it to the back of Mad Man's head. Smith and Munro then forced the two men out of the vehicle, and marched them about 40 yards into the woods, near mile marker 195 of U.S. Highway 2.
"I intended to kill them on my own before we took them into the woods," Smith later testified.
"He shot one of the them in the head in front of the other one," Lympus said. "Then he shot the other one in the temple. Munro was right there too, but it was Smith who did the shooting. Here Thomas and Harvey were helping these guys they were giving them a ride. Yet what did they get in return? Cold-blooded execution."
After Smith shot Mad Man and Running Rabbit, he, Munro and Fontaine headed southwest in the stolen car. Just outside Elmo, on the Flathead Indian Reservation, the men came upon an abandoned Mazda with Washington state license plates. They stole the car's plates and put them on the LTD, then continued toward California.
Two days later, after Running Rabbit and Mad Man still had not returned home, the young men's family started getting worried.
"It wasn't like them to disappear and not tell us where they were," Grant said. "At the time, we thought it was an accident. We thought those boys might have went over a bank on the side of the road and we couldn't find them."
According to a court affidavit, on Aug. 6 the men's grandmother, Cecile Grant, reported to the Bureau of Indian Affairs Police that they were missing. The initial search for Running Rabbit and Mad Man was short lived. Just a few days later, investigators from California contacted the Glacier County Sheriff's Office to report that they had impounded Cecile Grant's car.
On the same day Running Rabbit and Mad Man were reported missing by their grandmother, Munro and Fontaine were arrested in Eureka, Calif., after a botched armed robbery attempt. The details of the crime are not included in available court documents, but what is known is that the three Canadians held up a motel in Eureka using the same sawed-off rifle Smith used to execute Mad Man and Running Rabbit. The three men attempted to flee in the LTD, but local police stopped them near the Eureka city limits. Munroe and Fontaine were arrested, but Smith managed to escape capture, taking the murder weapon with him.
California investigators soon discovered that the LTD had stolen license plates. They traced the car's vehicle identification number back to its registered owner in Montana. Cecile Grant's car provided the first connection between Smith, Munro and Fontaine and the missing Blackfeet men.
The sawed-off .22 was never recovered.
Almost immediately, Fontaine began to cooperate with investigators. The 19-year-old from Quebec had remained in the car while Smith and Munro forced Running Rabbit and Mad Man into the woods, and did not directly participate in their murders. While in custody in California, Fontaine identified Smith as the third suspect in the Eureka robbery.
Smith's movements after evading capture in California are unclear. There is some evidence that he may have tried to go back to Canada but turned back before attempting to cross the border. Smith was eventually apprehended in Rock Springs, Wyo., where he may have been trying to make contact with a family member.
Despite the suspects being in police custody and Fontaine's cooperation in the investigation, it took several weeks before search parties recovered the bodies of Mad Man and Running Rabbit.
"Fontaine was talking, but he wasn't from Montana and wasn't familiar with the area," Lympus said.
"He said their bodies were just a little ways out of East Glacier and on a right-hand curve," Grant said. "That was all the information we had."
Led by Running Rabbit's father, Thomas Sr., the family and the Blackfeet Tribe began a painstaking search of the Marias Pass area. After weeks with no success, the teams began expanding their search radius.
"We did it an organized way so we didn't miss a spot," Grant said. "We went all the way up to Paradise, Montana, and walked the entire road back toward the reservation."
As time passed, Fontaine began revealing more details about the crime scene.
"We started getting more direction from Fontaine," Lympus said. "He recalled the statue that was at the top of the pass a kind of obelisk like the Washington Monument. Back in those days, it was in the middle of the road and the highway went around it. He described that, and then the search parties proceeded further west."
Forty-four days after Mad Man and Running Rabbit were killed, their bodies were found by members of their family. It was an area search teams previously had passed by several times.
"They were in a little indentation on the edge of a steep side hill," Grant said. "What kept everybody out of there it was wet in there there was a stream running through there."
Other than immediate family members, Lympus was one of the first people to learn that the bodies of Running Rabbit and Mad Man had been found. He and Flathead County Sheriff Al Ryerson immediately left Kalispell to investigate the crime scene.
"When we arrived there, the search team was out on the road," Lympus said. "They indicated that how they first discovered them was not by vision, but by the odor of the decomposing bodies. It was a terrible sight. They'd been there for some time. They were a mess because there had been animals bears and such."
Lympus said the memory of that day haunted him for years.
"There was a big fir tree there, and they were kind of at the base of that," he said. "I can remember for years driving over Marias Pass, I would drive by that scene and see that tree. It was very recognizable."
The night Mad Man and Running Rabbit were found, an armed guard was posted at the crime scene to protect the evidence. The next day, their bodies were removed and taken to the State Crime Lab in Missoula.
State prosecutors now had all three suspects, the stolen vehicle they had escaped in, forensic evidence from the crime scene, the bodies of the murder victims, and testimony from one of the accomplices.