DEER LODGE — Barry Beach didn’t attend Tuesday’s Board of Pardons and Parole meeting, but a number of his Billings friends did, as did supporters from around the state.
They didn’t hesitate to talk about the man many of them have grown to know and love.
“I had jobs none of my staff was willing to do, dusty and dirty jobs, and he did them without complaining,” Steve Wahrlick, owner of the Best Western Plus Clock Tower Inn, who hired Beach during his 18 months of freedom, from December 2011 through May 2013.
“He became a very productive member of my staff. Purely from a business standpoint, Barry has a job as soon as he’s out. We would love to have him back.”
Ziggy Ziegler, who with his wife, Stella, owns Stella’s Kitchen and Bakery, accompanied Beach to many speaking engagements during Beach’s time outside prison.
“His message of faith was always well-received,” Ziegler said. “We have laughed, cried and prayed together. One of the most traumatic days in my life was the day my wife and I returned Barry to the state’s correctional system. I don’t know if I have Barry’s fortitude.”
Stella Ziegler said the couple’s three “intuitive and smart puppies love Barry.”
“It was immediate you could see Barry was a special person,” she said. “I was amazed that someone in prison for 29 years came out so ready to be part of the community.”
Billings Mayor Tom Hanel, a former Billings police lieutenant who led the department’s internal investigations, said he conducted “my own personal profile” on Beach after being introduced to him by the Zieglers. The mayor said he’s “very particular about my city and the people who move to Billings.”
“He has had the opportunity to prove himself in prison and as a free man,” Hanel said. “He has been an exemplary citizen.”
Beach’s Billings supporters said they were happy to make the four-hour journey to testify on their friend’s behalf.
“I’m optimistic (that Beach will receive a new clemency hearing), but I don’t want to get my hopes up too high,” Wahrlick said. “It’s a guarded optimism. I know in the last year (that Beach was sent back to prison) that the time has weighed upon him some.”
He and the Zieglers said they’re convinced of Beach’s innocence.
“Leopards don’t change their spots,” Wahrlick said. “If he did do it, he’s the greatest con in the world.”
The Zieglers recalled Beach’s morning routine during the eight months he lived with them following his prison release.
“First he’d do 75 pushups, then he’d read the Bible,” Ziggy Ziegler said. “In 18 months, Barry became a productive and well-respected citizen.”
On the first day following his release to the Zieglers’ care, Beach checked in with his parole officer, then applied for his driver’s license and a city business license required to do handyman’s work — all during his first morning as a free man.
“He was very prepared, and he knew what he needed to do from the start,” Ziggy Ziegler said.
Billings real estate broker Myles Egan spoke about Beach, telling the board about the baseball tips Beach gave his grandchildren.
“I have seen Barry many times work until 5 o’clock on a Friday, then drive to various parts of the state for speaking engagements,” Egan said. “He is very committed to helping young people.”
Michael E. McKee, chair of the Board of Pardons and Parole, said after Tuesday’s meeting that there’s no timeline for deciding whether Beach will receive a full clemency hearing.
The board must first decide if there have been “significant changes” in Beach’s situation since he was denied parole in 2007.
“If that’s the case,” he said, “we’ll set another hearing.”