Not letting hope die 

Less than a month after the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole (BOPP) issued its decision rejecting Barry Beach’s appeal for freedom and “laid this matter to rest,” Beach’s supporters are working to revive the issue.

In a Sept. 12 letter to Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Centurion Ministries Executive Director Jim McCloskey writes, “A profound miscarriage of justice has occurred. I ask you to use the full authority of your office to rectify this grave mistake.”

Beach, who’s serving a 100-year no-parole sentence for the 1979 murder of Kim Nees in Poplar, has sought unsuccessfully to win a pardon or sentence commutation. He and Centurion Ministries, the organization that’s spearheaded Beach’s clemency efforts, claim he falsely confessed to the crime and that Nees’ real killers walk free, while the Montana Attorney General’s Office maintains that Beach was properly convicted.

In a 25-page response to the BOPP decision, McCloskey calls on Gov. Schweitzer to reverse its findings, arguing “[the] decision is replete with numerous misstatements of critically important facts. Bereft of even a pretense of balance and evenhandedness, it ignores or mischaracterizes strong evidence of Mr. Beach’s innocence and the guilt of others. One can only wonder how sincere and well intentioned the Board’s disposition and motivation was when it initiated and conducted these hearings.”

But Sarah Elliott, spokeswoman for Gov. Schweitzer, says Montana law restricts the governor’s authority to capital punishment cases if the BOPP rejects an inmate’s clemency application.

“We have no legal authority to take any action on this case,” Elliott says. “We cannot do anything about it.”

McCloskey says he doesn’t know the extent of Schweitzer’s authority to get involved in the Beach case, but says, “I’m a firm believer that where there’s a will, there’s a way. This is a unique and extraordinary case in the state of Montana—we can’t leave an innocent man behind bars.”

BOPP Executive Director Craig Thomas declined to comment on Centurion Ministries’ critique of its findings, writing in an e-mail that, “The Board stands by its decision and will not comment further.”
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