Wrongfully convicted – or wrongfully released?

The headlines read like fiction: Man released after decades in prison. All across Montana, people are debating the case of Barry Beach, released in early December after nearly 29 years in prison for the 1979 murder of a 17-year-old girl–a murder he says he didn’t commit.

Beach has fought years for a new trial, arguing that a confession he gave police in Louisiana a few years after the murder was coerced, and that new evidence shows Kim Nees was murdered by a group of teenage girls, at a party spot on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in northwest Montana. His 2007 request for pardon or parole was denied. In 2009, the Montana Supreme Court ordered a hearing to allow him to present newly discovered evidence. That hearing was finally held in November 2011, and included testimony by a woman who as a ten-year-old, heard the murder occur. District Judge Wayne Phillips ordered a new trial.

Beach’s cause has been supported by many Montanans, as well as Centurion Ministries and the Innocence Project. Beach, who’s white, is also supported by an Indian-owned newspaper in Fort Peck.

Sadly, the young reporter, who’s interest in the story was spurred by a 2008 story on Dateline, has reportedly been threatened because of his articles investigating the case.

Beach was released without bond, a decision the state opposed, although Judge Phillips pointed out that a man who went to prison at 21 would not have the assets to post bond. He did impose a long list of conditions.

A new trial date hasn’t been set yet. I suspect pretrial publicity may make a fair trial impossible in Roosevelt County, population just under 11,000, where the murder occurred, and that the trial will be moved to another county.

Life outside prison isn’t going to be easy, though Beach says he’s enjoying it. I’ll try to post updates on major events. Murder cries for justice–and so, if proven, does wrongful conviction.

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5 thoughts on “Wrongfully convicted – or wrongfully released?

  1. Coerced confession claims always amaze me – how could anyone think that any confession they make would be good for them? But then again, perhaps after hours and hours of interrogation by police someone, especially someone young and/or uneducated, may think it would be an easy way to get released and go home. Wrongful conviction is frightening but happens frequently. Thank God for DNA.

    • Loni, some people question all claims of coerced confessions, wondering how anyone could possibly confess to a crime they hadn’t committed. And you’re right: most coerced confessions appear to stem from diminished capacity, either a lack of understanding, or confusion brought about by drugs, alcohol, or the pressure of the situation. In this case, DNA does not appear to be a factor — testing showed that a bloody handprint left on the door of Kim Nees’s truck did not come from either Nees or Beach, but there’s been no public disclosure yet of evidence identifying who left it.

  2. Thanks for the interesting post, Leslie. It’s always a mind-blower when someone who’s been in prison for so many years convinces someone that he’s been wrongly convicted. On the one hand, I’d feel bad if this was true. Do keep us informed about the outcome. In the meantime, check out my current blog post about a serial murderer in Texas. This guy has convinced someone that he may be innocent too, but I am not at all convinced.

  3. Leslie, In Mississauga, Ontario Immigration Canada (the Canadian border patrol) frequently sends reports to the courts containing confessions that have never happened. The interrogration officers write documents containing information that will cover their butts for their false arrests. As a result, innocent people have false arrests on their record. See “Daughter of Spies” on http://www.ElaineAbramson.com.

  4. I have been involved with the Beach case for many years. I would suggest that any of you research the facts. Steve Bullock is wasting your and my tax dollars and appears to be poised to continue to do so. Do you know that the real murderers in this case have admitted and bragged numerous times to numerous individuals that they did this? This is the kind of evidence that was given to Judge Phillips and he acted on. There is no evidence that Barry did this other then a Coerced confession that is so loaded with holes it stinks. Don’t believe me, study the case, go to montanansforjustice.com and see for yourself. The latest polling shows overwhelmingly, people who have looked at the facts are outraged with Steve Bullock, (and he wants to be governor?) Steve Bullock should go after the real killers; he had representatives that heard the evidence in the courtroom, Tammy, Brant?
    Bob Kolar
    Montanans For Justice

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