DEER LODGE — Montana State Prison inmate Barry Beach says he will continue to fight to prove his innocence in the 1979 killing of Kim Nees of Poplar, but he'll have to carry on those efforts from behind bars.
Beach was released from prison in December 2011 after a state judge ordered a new trial in his case. Last month, the Montana Supreme Court overturned that decision and Beach was returned to prison to serve his 100-year sentence without the possibility of parole.
Beach, 51, has asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision, arguing the justices discarded Judge E. Wayne Phillips' findings. The state responded Thursday arguing the 4-3 decision to deny Beach a new trial was correct.
Phillips has said he feared he'd done a "soul-wrenching injustice" to Beach in freeing him, only to have him returned to prison.
Beach said he doesn't regret the freedom and opportunity that Judge Phillips gave him.
"I think if Judge Phillips is to have any regret, or feel there was any error, the error is in the Montana Supreme Court ruling," Beach said in a prison interview on Thursday.
"I want Judge Phillips to know that the year and half that I was out there was so special, and that I did everything I promised people I was going to do," said Beach, who added that the time he spent outside makes him understand better what he's fighting for.
He acknowledges it's a mental and emotional battle.
"After 29 years in here to begin with, you know you're fighting for freedom, you know you're fighting to go back to society, but you don't know what society is," Beach said. "You don't know what that means. I was given a year and a half to find out what I was fighting for. So yeah, it's more emotional. I can't believe I'm back behind bars. I can't believe I'm walking these narrow sidewalks again and using little four-inch rubber toothbrush to brush my teeth. But I also know what I'm fighting for now. I have a home out there. I had a job. I was doing great. I was just now beginning to realize what society was all about."
Beach said he received a lot of support during his time out of prison, including being stopped in the Philadelphia airport by someone from London who recognized him from the "Dateline NBC" special on his case. Beach was on a state-approved trip to Princeton, N.J., to speak at an event for Centurion Ministries, the group that has worked to free him.
"I couldn't go anywhere without people coming up to me and shaking my hand or giving me a hug," Beach said. "It was a reward for all the suffering."
"When you're sitting here in prison you don't think your life means anything. You think you're just stuck in this mundane routine," he said. "To have people say such nice things to me out there made me realize that my life means something. My life stands for something."