HELENA — Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer is adding his name to the list of people who support Barry Beach’s efforts to be released from prison for a 1979 murder he says he didn’t commit.
Schweitzer wrote a letter to the state Board of Pardons and Parole on Thursday saying he didn’t believe Beach should be incarcerated any longer.
“His trial was sparsely supported with evidence, there is no physical evidence tying him to the murder, there are questions about the validity of his confession, and at trial the prosecutor referenced evidence during his opening statements that he never produced,” Schweitzer wrote, arguing that that amounted to prosecutorial misconduct.
“And recently, a highly respected Montana judge found Mr. Beach’s conviction deeply problematic, and vacated it,” Schweitzer noted. Beach was released from prison for 18 months, during which time “he behaved in an exemplary fashion.”
Beach is serving a 100-year sentence without the possibility of parole.
Last week, an attorney for Beach submitted an application to the board asking it to recommend that Gov. Steve Bullock eliminate the parole restriction so Beach can have a parole hearing after serving nearly 30 years in prison.
Schweitzer reiterated the application’s argument that Beach was 17 at the time of Kimberly Nees’ death and the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that sentencing a juvenile to life in prison without the possibility of parole is unconstitutional. Beach’s petition argued that his 100-year sentence without the possibility of parole is the same as a life sentence.
Beach’s application for a sentence reduction included 200 letters of support, including letters from Sen. Jon Tester and former U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns.
The parole board in 2007 denied Beach a recommendation for a gubernatorial pardon. Schweitzer was governor at the time.