Barry Beach supporters put up signs in Billings

2013-10-16T00:15:00Z 2014-06-16T18:38:04Z Barry Beach supporters put up signs in BillingsBy CHRIS CIOFFI ccioffi@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A large “Free Barry Beach” sign has been posted in an empty lot at the corner of Division Street and Grand Avenue.

“A couple from out of state brought it to the rally in Helena, and I told them to bring it down to Billings,” said Jean Nilson, owner of the lot at 3 Grand Ave. where the sign sits.

Nilson met Beach after his release in 2011. She hired him to build a deck at one of her properties and the two became friends.

He is a very nice man, she said.

Well-wishers have written messages of solidarity with Beach on the sign.

In 1984, Beach was convicted of the 1979 murder of 17-year-old Kimberly Nees in Poplar.

Beach maintains the confession that sent him to prison for a 100-year term was coerced and that he should be exonerated.

Yellow signs from the statewide effort to free Beach, Montanans for Justice, have appeared around town as well.

Nicole Avery, who lives at 18th Street West and Broadwater Avenue, has several yellow signs in her yard.

“It’s just my small part that I can do to help the greater cause,” she said.

She doesn’t have time to plan or participate in rallies and events, but her home’s location provides good visibility to get out the message.

“I like it sitting right there on Broadwater Avenue because there are detectives, lawmakers and Supreme Court justices that drive by,” Avery said.

Like many Beach supporters, Avery believes that Beach’s case has been mishandled.

“I feel like looking at that sign every day is going to eat at them,” she said.

Beach was freed in 2011 after a judge in Lewistown granted him a new trial. He was sent back to prison in May after the Montana Supreme Court reversed the decision.

Last month, Beach’s attorney sent an application for commutation, or a reduction of sentence, to members of the state Board of Pardons and Parole on Beach’s behalf.

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