June 1, 2012 Source : http://www.theprovince.com
While Alberta-born killer Ronald Smith awaits the outcome of his high-profile bid to avoid execution for a 1982 double-murder in Montana, the U.S. government is engaged in a court battle with another Canadian citizen facing the death penalty in a little-known case in Indiana — ensuring that the controversial issue of capital punishment will be kept alive for years in Canada regardless of Smith’s fate in the coming months.
The case of Robert Bolden — a 48-year-old, Newfoundland-born man convicted of killing a Missouri security guard during a botched bank robbery in St. Louis in 2002 — only recently came to the attention of the Canadian government, partly because Bolden moved to the U.S. as a toddler with a drug-addicted mother who used forged documents to emigrate from Canada.
Bolden’s lawyers have launched an appeal aimed at winning a new trial and overturning his death sentence, largely on the basis that he was “deprived” of what could have been “vital” consular assistance by the Canadian government when he was arrested almost 10 years ago and later in his bid to avoid execution.
“The consulate’s assistance would have been critical to Mr. Bolden’s defence,” states a petition filed on behalf of the Canadian death-row inmate by Jennifer Merrigan, a lawyer with the Kansas City-based Death Penalty Litigation Clinic.
The petition was backed by a detailed affidavit from Gar Pardy, a retired Canadian public servant who headed the consular affairs section at the federal Department of Foreign Affairs from 1995 to 2003, during which time he led several diplomatic missions to prevent Canadians from being executed abroad.
But in a 200-page counter-argument filed last week at the U.S. District Court in Missouri, the U.S. Department of Justice insisted that prosecutors “had every reason to believe that Bolden was a United States citizen” at the time of his arrest, and that defence claims that the death sentence might never have been pursued or secured because of Bolden’s Canadian citizenship are unfounded.
“Bolden alleges that the (U.S.) government deprived him of the ‘unique and pivotal role’ of the Canadian Consulate, violating his due process right and right to a fair trial,” states the Department of Justice submission. “This claim is facially implausible. The ‘unique and pivotal role’ the consulate plays is to inform a foreign national of his rights as a defendant in the United States and explain the differences in the American legal system.”
Bolden “had no need for a ‘cultural bridge’,” the statement contends, “because he was very familiar with our legal system. Bolden had been convicted of three prior felonies and has been arrested numerous times.”
The Department of Justice submission recalled Ley’s “unique qualities, his aspiration to become a police officer, his exceptional gift of helping others, the excruciating pain he suffered after Bolden shot him twice in the head, and the catastrophic impact of his death on his family.”
Bolden was born in Stephenville, Nfld., in June 1963. His mother, identified in court documents as “S.D.” Decker, is described as a heroin-addicted, white prostitute who died in the U.S. in 2001. Bolden’s father was an unidentified black American soldier stationed at the U.S. military’s former Harmon Air Force Base in Stephenville, which was closed in 1966.
Alleged racism directed at Decker because of her biracial child appears to have prompted her move to the U.S. around 1966, according to Merrigan.
Bolden was principally raised by the St. Louis-based family of another U.S. soldier with whom Decker had a fleeting relationship in Newfoundland.
In an interview with Postmedia News, Merrigan said the option of life imprisonment was never adequately explored in the Bolden case because Canadian officials didn’t get a chance — due to the actions of prosecutors and the oversights of defence lawyers — “to weigh in on whether the U.S. government should pursue the death penalty.”
She added that a thorough investigation of Bolden’s early childhood in Newfoundland by his original defence lawyers would have illuminated deep-rooted social and psychological challenges flowing from his mother’s troubled background — a potentially mitigating factor in death-penalty cases in the U.S.
“The Decker family’s history of interpersonal violence, verbal abuse, mental illness, addiction, and diabetes — none of which was explored by counsel — is the genetic and psychosocial cornerstone of Robert Bolden’s life story,” states the petition to overturn his death sentence.
John Babcock, a spokesman for Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Diane Ablonczy — who oversees consular issues for the Conservative government — confirmed that Bolden is a Canadian citizen and added: “Mr. Bolden was convicted of the very serious charge of murder. Canadian officials are providing Mr. Bolden with consular assistance, and will continue to do so.”
Bolden is being held in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Until October 2007, the Canadian government’s long-standing policy was to automatically seek clemency for Canadians facing execution in foreign countries.
Then, in response to a Postmedia News story about Canadian diplomats lobbying Montana’s governor to commute Smith’s sentence, the Conservative government halted those efforts and declared a new policy of reviewing clemency requests on a “case-by-case” basis — which Prime Minister Stephen Harper said was more in keeping with his government’s tough-on-crime agenda.
The Federal Court of Canada later ruled that the government had acted unlawfully by ending its support for Smith and ordered it to resume clemency efforts.
In December, ahead of Smith’s clemency hearing last month in Montana, the Canadian government sent a letter requesting that Smith be spared execution for “humanitarian reasons.” But opposition critics and Smith’s lawyers panned the letter as a lukewarm expression of the Canadian government’s formal opposition to capital punishment, which was abolished in this country in 1976.
Montana’s parole board has recommended to the state’s governor, Brian Schweitzer, that Smith be denied clemency. But Schweitzer, whose final term as governor automatically ends on Dec. 31 this year, is not likely to be in office by the time an outstanding lawsuit related to Montana’s lethal-injection is resolved early next year, clearing the way for an execution date to be set for Smith.