Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Barry Beach given chance to prove innocence

Posted By on Tue, Nov 24, 2009 at 3:55 PM

From John S. Adams of the Great Falls Tribune:

Barry Beach, the Poplar man who was convicted in 1984 of murdering 17-year-old Kim Nees on the Fort Peck Reservation, will get another chance to try to prove his innocence in court.

The Montana Supreme Court on Tuesday remanded Beach’s case back to District Court to hold an evidentiary hearing to assess potential new evidence in the case.

Beach, who is serving 100 years in prison without the possibility of parole, has consistently maintained that he is innocent in the murder and that his confession was coerced by investigators.

Here's the ruling (PDF).

In 2006, former Indy reporter Jessie McQuillan wrote an award-winning feature story about Beach, bringing his case national attention. From the story:

Convicted in 1984 based on a confession he has said all along was false and coerced—and despite a plethora of physical evidence, none of which implicates him—Barry has spent the last 23 years paying for a crime he and many others say he didn’t commit. Imprisoned at 21, Barry is now a middle-aged man serving a 100-year sentence with no parole. He has spent his adult life behind bars with one aim: proving his innocence and winning his freedom. Recently, with the help of Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey organization that works to investigate and free wrongly imprisoned inmates, Barry applied to Gov. Brian Schweitzer for executive clemency, which could come in the form of a pardon or commutation of his sentence. Prevented by legal deadlines from taking his case back to the courts, and frustrated with the Montana Parole Board’s recent rejection of his sentence commutation application, Barry says he’s appealing to the governor because he refuses to give up on the truth, and because he continues to keep faith that someone will listen.

“The facts exist and they’ve existed for 27 years,” Barry says. “All I’m asking anybody—Gov. Schweitzer, the Parole Board, the courts, I don’t care who—is to give me the opportunity to present the facts for what they are. Because I don’t even have to speak…the facts are there in black and white.”

McQuillan, now the director of the Montana Innocence Project, says, "Until now, no Montana court has allowed Barry Beach to air new evidence of his innocence, so this marks an important step. When innocent people are wrongly convicted, it often takes years and years before the truth can finally emerge."

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