A year and a half ago, I wrote a post about Barry Beach, a Montana man convicted of deliberate homicide in 1984 for the 1979 a murder of a teenage girl — a high school classmate of his — a murder he says he didn’t commit. He confessed to the homicide in 1983 in Louisiana, but has long claimed that the confession was coerced. In December 2011, with the assistance of Jim McCloskey and Centurion Ministries, whose mission “is to vindicate and free from prison those individuals in the United States and Canada who are factually innocent of the crimes for which they have been unjustly convicted and imprisoned for life or death,” Beach was released from prison and granted a new trial. Some of the victim’s relatives believe him innocent; others disagree.
The State of Montana appealed that ruling, and in mid May, the Montana Supreme Court held 4-3 that the district judge had erred in finding that Beach had proven the standards for a new trial. In an AP interview after the reversal, the judge, now retired, said he fears he’s done a “soul-wrenching injustice” to Beach, allowing him to hope for permanent freedom after 27 years behind bars.
Beach turned himself in. Although the Department of Corrections would not confirm where he would be sent in the latest story about the case, from the Helena Independent Record, he is likely to be returned to the Montana State Prison.
I often beseech fiction writers to use accounts of real-life events to reach for the human truth behind the headlines, and use it to deepen characterization and motive, and influence plot. This case brims with examples.
Update: In this June 18 report from the AP, Beach — now back in the Montana State Prison — says the judge who freed him should have no regrets, and that his year and a half “outside” made him value even more what he is fighting for.