Barry Beach and his supporters have sought for years to convince Montana officials that Beach is not a murderer, and has been wrongly imprisoned for more than 24 years for the brutal 1979 slaying of Kim Nees, his Poplar classmate and neighbor.
But on Aug. 1, the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole gave Beach, his family and supporters a chance to say who Beach is to them: Witnesses testified that Beach is a master carpenter, a devoutly religious man, an inspiring role model for other inmates, and an active participant in prison education programs ranging from bookkeeping to electrical wiring.
The parole hearing in Deer Lodge drew 14 witnesses, including Nees’ sister, Pam, who issued a statement saying she didn’t believe Beach was responsible for Nees’ death. It was the second of two unusual hearings conducted in response to Beach’s application for executive clemency. In coming weeks the Board will decide whether to recommend that Gov. Brian Schweitzer pardon Beach or, alternately, whether to commute Beach’s sentence and make him eligible for release. Beach is currently serving a 100-year, no-parole sentence following a conviction based on a confession he maintains was false and coerced by Louisiana detectives.
Pledges of financial and social support to help Beach re-acclimate to society after spending more than half his life behind bars were made by a number of witnesses, including former Yellowstone County Commissioner James Ziegler and former state Sen. Chris Christiaens.
Beach also spoke on his own behalf, telling officials he’s spent years preparing for his hoped-for release by pursuing continuing education as well as purchasing a car with money he earned behind prison walls, and building a collection of pots and pans and other household items currently in storage at his mother’s home.
“I knew that someday, one way or another, I was going to walk out of here a free man, and I needed to be a better person and man than I was when I walked into prison,” Beach said. “I’ve done everything I possibly can to prepare…I’m simply asking for my chance to go out and live the rest of my life.”