Rodney Munro, in an exclusive interview with The Canadian Press, has ended decades of silence and is speaking out in defence of Smith, 54, who sits on death row and whose fate is now in the hands of Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
"I thank God everyday for him," Munro said about Smith in a telephone interview from his home in a quiet community in Western Canada.
On Aug. 4, 1982, Smith and Munro were hitchhiking in Montana when they caught a ride with Harvey Madman Jr. and Thomas Running Rabbit. Smith and Munro marched the two men into the woods and shot and stabbed them to death.
Both Canadians were charged with murder. Smith pleaded guilty to two charges of deliberate homicide and two charges of aggravated kidnapping in February 1983 and requested the death penalty. He rejected a plea deal offered by prosecutors which would have given him life in prison.
He later changed his mind and asked the District Court to reconsider the death penalty. That led to three decades of legal wrangling which is almost at an end.
Munro accepted the plea bargain and pleaded guilty to aggravated kidnapping. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison but was returned to Canada and released in 1998.
"It's because of Ron that I'm out and doing as well as I am," Munro said. "Because of what he said in court, I didn't get the death penalty. And because of that I had a chance of actually getting out and trying to make something of myself.
"He saved my life."
The Montana Board of Pardons and Parole has recommended that Smith not be granted clemency, even though he was described as a model prisoner during his 30 years at Montana State Prison at a hearing last month.
There was emotional testimony from both sides. Smith's friends and family said he is a changed man who has rehabilitated himself. But the families of the victims said he deserves no mercy.
The state attorney downplayed Munro's role in the killings and said it was Smith alone who should pay the ultimate price.
But Munro, who still speaks with Smith by phone every couple of weeks, said he was equally to blame and feels guilt about the murders.
"When you're involved in what we were involved in, how can you not feel it? We put ourselves in a spot and two guys ended up dead and I think about it all the time," he said quietly.
"They don't want to know (about my role). That just brings up that he's not the monster.
"I hate to say it this way, but it makes them feel better to think they're killing a monster other than who he is."
The two men had been taking 30 to 40 hits of LSD and consuming between 12 and 18 beers a day at the time of the murders.
Munro said he and Smith became friends after hanging out in the same circles and through mutual acquaintances.
"We could have been the Bobbsey twins. We kind of connected with each other and away we went. Our life revolved around booze, drugs and partying, and that's just not who we are any more."
Now married, employed and free of drugs and alcohol, Munro said he's sad about what is happening to Smith.
He is also angry that the Canadian government's support of Smith has been less than enthusiastic.
But Munro is hopeful that Schweitzer will have the political will to spare his friend's life.
"Ron is not even close to the man he used to be. The guy has learned his lesson. I think we all have."
Smith told his clemency hearing that he was "horrendously sorry'' for his actions.
"I do understand the pain and suffering I've put you through,'' he said to the victims' relatives. "It was never my intent to cause any suffering for anybody. I wish there was some way I could take it back. I can't.''
Munro wanted to send his own message to the families.
"We are just so sorry that this ever happened. If we could change it, we would, but how do you change the past?" he said.
"I think about it everyday and it's what keeps me on the straight and narrow, making sure nothing like this will ever happen again."Suggest a correction