HELENA — Convicted murderer Barry Beach said Friday he was “absolutely amazed” and surprised by Gov. Steve Bullock’s letter this week to the state Parole Board, supporting Beach’s bid for parole.
“I was really truly shocked,” he said in an interview from the State Prison at Deer Lodge. “I truly am thankful for Gov. Bullock doing so, and I applaud him for the courage to write such a letter — especially since he was the attorney general who filed the appeal to bring me back to prison in the first place.”
He also said he hopes the Board of Pardons and Parole can “follow the lead” of Bullock’s letter, which, in Beach’s words, “outlined all the requirements that are necessary to meet this clemency request,” to commute his sentence and allow a possible parole.
“Hopefully the board can follow suit and make a decision based on that,” he said.
Beach, convicted in 1984 for the 1979 murder of Kimberly Nees near Poplar, has been trying for years to void his conviction, saying he’s innocent and that a confession was improperly coerced.
Beach had been freed from prison for 18 months after a state District Court judge ruled in 2011 that he should get a new trial, based on new evidence.
But a 4-3 decision by the Montana Supreme Court in May 2013 overruled that order, sending Beach back to the State Prison to serve out his 100-year-without-parole sentence.
Last September, Beach’s attorneys asked the Board of Pardons and Parole to commute his sentence so he could be considered for parole.
The board is scheduled to meet Tuesday in Deer Lodge to consider whether to accept the petition and investigate the issue further. If the board does not accept the petition, Beach’s sentence will stand.
Late Wednesday, Bullock, a former state attorney general, unexpectedly released a letter to the board, saying it appears that Beach’s case meets many of the requirements in law for commutation of his no-parole sentence.
Bullock also noted that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision said mandatory life-without-parole sentences are unconstitutional, and that Beach already has served 30 years of his sentence.
“The issue before this board is not one of guilt or innocence,” Bullock wrote. “Beach is not seeking to be relieved of the legal consequences of his conviction for murder.”
Beach said he didn’t know about Bullock’s letter until other inmates told him Wednesday, and that he didn’t believe them until he was able to talk to his mother and she read him parts of the letter.
Beach said he won’t be appearing at Tuesday’s hearing before the board, but will be represented by his attorney, Peter Camiel of Seattle, his mother and other supporters from Billings and across the state. Beach lived and worked in Billings while he was out of prison from late 2011 to May 2013.
“There is a tremendous amount of support out there, throughout the state of Montana on my behalf, and it’s because the people of Montana believe there should be a true judicial process,” he said. “Many of those supporters have been extremely dedicated for standing up for the justice that they believe in.
“I’m just as thankful to those people as I am to the governor.”
Beach’s case has been championed by Centurion Ministries, a nonprofit organization that works to free wrongfully convicted inmates.
He said Friday that while his latest request shouldn’t focus on his guilt or innocence, his legal team has uncovered more evidence to support his innocence claim.
“We have a lot more information, in fact, a ton more information since my release (from prison) in 2011 … but this isn’t the platform to address that,” he said.