12/23/2011 04:30 EST | Updated 05/10/2013 05:12 EDT

Ronald Smith Execution: Jessica Crawford, Victim's Daughter, Doesn't Want Canadian Executed

BROWNING, Mont. - The daughter of one of the men killed by the only Canadian on death row in the United States says she doesn't want her father's killer executed and will tell that to a clemency hearing that could happen in Montana as early as the spring.

Jessica Crawford told The Canadian Press that while her late grandparents wanted to see Ronald Smith pay with his life for the killing of her father Thomas Running Rabbit and cousin Harvey Mad Man, she would rather see Smith spend the rest of his days behind bars.

"I think he should just remain locked away. That's my feelings for it now," Crawford said.

"We went to the last court appearance in Helena where he was at the hearing. After seeing him and seeing how real it was, I just feel it is more of a punishment for him that he just sit out his years."

Smith, originally from Red Deer, Alta., pleaded guilty in 1983 to shooting both men in the head with a sawed-off 22-calibre rifle while he was high on drugs and alcohol. Their bodies were dumped in the woods near East Glacier, Mont.

He refused a plea deal that would have seen him avoid death row and asked for a death sentence. Smith later changed his mind, but now, nearly three decades later and after several execution dates were set and countless legal arguments made, his legal avenues have all but dried up.

His final hope of living out his days in a tiny cell at Montana State Prison will lie in a plea for clemency, which ultimately will be in the hands of Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Smith's lawyers have been working on his clemency application.

"He wants to go forward with this and have some resolution. He wants something decided one way or the other so he knows," said lawyer Greg Jackson, who has spent the last 20 years representing Smith.

"I think he is at peace. I think a lot of it is that...he has finally been able to get to the point where, to some degree, he has been able to forgive himself."

Jackson is surprised Crawford doesn't want to see Smith executed.

"I think it could have a tremendous effect. They are the family that's been the most outspoken in favour of him dying, so I think that's excellent, excellent, excellent."

Amnesty International U.S.A. suggested a final decision on clemency usually comes down to politics.

"Ultimately it comes down to a specific set of political dynamics as to whether a parole board or a governor is going to decide on clemency. They ultimately have to decide the merits of the case and what it's going to mean to them politically," said Laura Moye, Amnesty's campaign director for death penalty abolition.

"When there are no more appeals left, you have an entire legal system that has been going in one direction — pushing a case toward execution — so what you're able to do in the last moments is very difficult."

The Canadian government has requested that Smith not be executed. It was forced to make the request by Federal Court after initially balking because Smith had received a fair trial.

Moye said the wishes of the victims' families carry the most weight.

"The relationship between the home government of the prisoner and the U.S. can have an impact, but it would have to be one of several issues. It by itself is not usually the thing that makes or breaks a decision."

Crawford, 33, was only five years old when her father and Mad Man were murdered.

"I know a lot of my family felt the hatred. I don't feel hatred, but I feel I don't want him out of jail," she said in her Browning, Mont., home.

She and her two younger brothers were raised by their grandparents who placed them in a "protective bubble."

"They just told us he had passed away."

She was 19 before she learned who Smith was and how her father died.

Her opinions on his execution are different now that she's older and has children of her own, she said. The turning point was the court appearance in Helena. It was the first time she saw Smith in person.

"He didn't look scary. He stood up and they were just taking him back out and the first thing that came to my mind is he's not as scary as I thought he was going to be. I always thought I would be more afraid and I wasn't," she recalled.

"He was just like any other person and I didn't think it was going to be like that."

But she doesn't forgive Smith.

"His interviews were mostly about how he doesn't get to see his daughter. He doesn't get to see his grandkids. He couldn't see his mother when she was ill and be there.

"You don't deserve to see all that. You didn't give our father that option. Our father didn't get to see us grow up. He didn't get to see us graduate. He didn't get to see us having our children," Crawford said softly.

"Ronald Smith thinks he's the victim because he doesn't get to do all of this because he is in prison. Well, he made that choice and I think he should have to live with it."

The key word is "live," she noted.