A long-awaited break
by Jessie McQuillan
Barry Beach, imprisoned 22 years for a murder he and many others say he didn’t commit, has been granted a public hearing by the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole.
Craig Thomas, executive director of the board, confirmed that Beach’s application for clemency will be heard in late February at the Montana State Prison.
“The board just felt there was enough information there that it merited further consideration,” says Thomas, explaining that the board could then forward a recommendation for Beach’s pardon or parole on to Gov. Brian Schweitzer. If the board doesn’t think Beach deserves a reduction in his 100-year, no-parole sentence, Thomas says, Beach’s request dies.
“It’s a great opportunity for Barry…Since the day he’s been sentenced, this is the first time he’s had the chance to publicly argue both his innocence and the fact that he ought to be out,” says Peter Camiel, Beach’s attorney through Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey nonprofit that works to free wrongly convicted prisoners nationwide. In October, the Independent reported the story of Beach’s case and clemency application, which had then been filed with Schweitzer. But later that month, Beach reapplied to the Board after his application was remanded for procedural reasons.
In 1984, Beach was convicted of brutally killing his Poplar classmate and neighbor, 18-year-old Kim Nees, and dumping her body in the Poplar River. Despite a plethora of physical evidence from the scene that didn’t match his DNA, Beach was convicted on the basis of a confession he made to Louisiana detectives, who he claims coerced a false admission of guilt. Six years ago, Centurion took on Beach’s case after he worked fruitlessly for years to exonerate himself, and Centurion has since unearthed new evidence supporting Beach’s innocence.
Following the Independent’s story, Dateline NBC tuned into Beach’s plight and is now working on a news report and plans to film Beach’s upcoming hearing.
“I think this case deserves whatever attention it’s given,” says Centurion Founder Jim McCloskey. “In our strongly held view, we have a man who’s been wrongly imprisoned for 22 years and the public should know about it.”
||Truth in Justice