It’s been a day since Montana Governor Steve Bullock sent a letter to the Board of Pardons and Parole, saying convicted killer Barry Beach has served enough time in prison.
Beach still has a hard time believing Bullock stood up for him. In fact, when he first found out he thought it was a lie. Now that it’s starting to sink in, Beach is grateful.
“It's the first time in all my years of fighting against the State of Montana that an authority from the State of Montana has made that type of a positive step in my direction,” Beach said in a phone interview Thursday.
Beach has been fighting his 100-year prison sentence since he was convicted in 1984, for the 1979 murder of Poplar teen Kim Nees. He maintains investigators coerced him to confess after hours of intense interrogation.
Next week, three members of the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole will decide whether to grant Beach's application for clemency.
That decision has some added pressure after Bullock sent a letter to the board Wednesday, urging members not to consider whether Beach is guilty, but whether he has served enough time.
In December 2011, a court ruling for a new trial set Beach free after he had already spent 27 years in the Montana State Prison. He was out for about 18 months until the Montana Supreme Court overruled a lower court. That decision yanked away a new trial and sent Beach back to prison in 2013.
Beach knows the road ahead could be a long one. “I'm trying not to put the cart before the horse, because I'm very aware of the fact that I still have to get past the parole board.”
Beach won’t be present at next Tuesday’s meeting, but dozens of people are expected to testify on his behalf.
“If this last year of my life hasn't taught me anything else, I’ve come to learn that the people of Montana really, truly have a very strong and passionate belief of what justice should be,” Beach said. “Some of these people that are coming over next Tuesday to speak on my behalf...it's just a clear example of that.”
The clemency application review is scheduled for Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. at the Powell County Community Center in Deer Lodge. The three-member panel will hear from the public. At that point they may make a decision on Beach's application for clemency or may extend the public comment period for people to submit comments in writing.
If the board accepts the application, a clemency hearing will be scheduled; that would likely be scheduled two months out.