Just four days after a Montana judge summarily denied Barry Beach’s request for a new trial, television audiences nationwide will have an opportunity to weigh the case for themselves. A two-hour Dateline NBC investigation of the 1979 murder case—including Beach’s claims he was wrongly convicted based on a coerced confession and that perpetrators in Kim Nees’ brutal beating death walk free—is scheduled to air April 4 on local NBC affiliates, including KECI 13 in Missoula, from 8–10 p.m.
While Beach’s case may be capturing unprecedented attention in the court of public opinion, his latest attempt to raise evidence of his professed innocence before a court of law was turned down March 31 by Roosevelt County District Judge David Cybulski, who ruled that Beach’s request was barred by legal deadlines.
Cybulski also wrote in his opinion that, procedural problems aside, he didn’t think Beach’s evidence proved his innocence. Key components of that evidence are four witnesses who say two women have confessed their involvement in the murder to them.
Beach attorney Peter Camiel says he will appeal the decision to the Montana Supreme Court. And Centurion Ministries’ Jim McCloskey, director of the national nonprofit backing Beach’s efforts to prove his innocence, calls the ruling premature.
“I don’t see how you can make a finding that this case has no merit in terms of actual innocence without examining the witnesses to see how credible and reliable their evidence is,” he says.
McCloskey also faults Cybulski’s finding that “the prosecution has thoroughly reviewed the evidence,” and that, “had this shown that Beach was truly innocent, the prosecutors would be morally and ethically bound to act to see that justice was done.”
Despite scores of wrongful conviction cases where inmates around the country have eventually been freed, McCloskey says prosecutors still strongly resist the prospect that they’ve convicted innocent people. The Beach case, he says, is no different.
“In the 20-some-year history of this case the prosecutors have had one objective only, and that’s to protect this conviction at any cost,” McCloskey says.