Still reeling from the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole’s denial of an appeal for clemency last August, convicted killer Barry Beach and his supporters are continuing their fight to set him free.
“We truly believe in Barry’s innocence, and a lot of people said when the Board’s ruling came out that it was the end, and that’s not true. We’re not going to stop,” says Peter Camiel, one of two attorneys hired by New Jersey-based nonprofit Centurion ministries to defend Beach.
On Jan. 19 Camiel and attorney Terrance L. Toavs of Wolf Point filed a petition for post-conviction relief in Roosevelt County District Court where more than 23 years ago a jury convicted Beach. The petition requests a hearing to consider new evidence that the attorneys say clears Beach in the brutal beating death of Kim Nees. Under Montana law a person convicted of a crime may challenge the validity of his or her sentence on the grounds of new evidence within one year of conviction, or after the petitioner discovers new evidence, Camiel says.
The new evidence presented to the court includes the testimony of nearly 20 people who say a group of girls—now women—confessed to the brutal crime in the days after the murder. Similar testimony has already been heard by the Board of Pardons and Parole in June 2007, but dismissed by the three-member panel.
“With the Board we were hoping they would consider this new evidence and recommend parole or a commutation of his sentence to [Gov. Schweitzer], and when they didn’t we decided that this matter had to be brought before the courts for a decision,” Camiel says.
Even though the Board rejected Beach’s plea for clemency, Camiel says hope remains.
“This is information that I believe had the original jury heard, they would not have convicted Barry Beach,” Camiel says.
If a Roosevelt County judge approves the petition, a hearing will be scheduled, as will a request for the Attorney General to file a statement.
“We truly believe this petition will lead to Barry being released,” Camiel says.
The Montana Department of Justice declined comment on the case until the Roosevelt District Court rules on the petition.