Beach Set Free

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Barry Beach, the man who has spent more than 30 years in prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit, and spent 18 months a free man before being returned to prison, was expected to walk out of Montana State Prison in Deerlodge for good today at noon.

(I’m currently driving to Deerlodge and won’t be able to update this story until after noon).

Dateline NBC’s Keith Morrison tweeted:

Keith Morrison ‪@dateline_keith

In Montana – our old friend Barry Beach is to be released from prison today!

Gov. Steve Bullock is expected to officially grant Beach’s request, bringing to an end a decades-long legal battle for Beach and his legion of supporters.

“Obviously we’re thrilled and very grateful to the governor for granting Barry executive clemency and immediate release. It’s been an amazing odyssey and legal saga for Barry and his supporters and finally, finally it’s all over,” said Jim McCloskey, founder of the Princeton, N.J.-based Centurion Ministries, the group that spent nearly $1 million dollars over the past two decades fighting for Beach’s freedom.

“He’s home for good. We could not be more pleased with the end result today,” McCloskey said.

“We’re just thrilled,” added Peter Camiel, Beach’s longtime attorney. “It’s been such a long time and such an ordeal for Barry, for his mother, for the people who have supported him. We’re just absolutely thrilled he’s going to be home by Thanksgiving to be with his family. It’s amazing.”

Beach was convicted in 1983 of the 1979 murder of his high school classmate, Kimberly Nees, who was found on the banks of the Poplar River near Wolf Point, beaten to death.

Beach was arrested in Louisiana three years after the murder, and after hours of interrogation confessed to killing Nees and playing a role in three other Louisiana murders. Beach said his confession  was coerced by aggressive Louisiana interrogators.

Beach was never charged with the Louisiana murders and police caught the real killer, but his confession to Nees’ murder held water with a Montana jury and he was sentenced to 100 years without parole.

Beach he has long maintained he is innocent and that his confession was coerced, and new evidence presented at a three-day hearing in 2011 was sufficient to convince Fergus Co. Judge Wayne Phillips to grant Beach a new trial.

Beach was freed during the 18-months it took the Montana Supreme Court to consider an appeal from the State. The Montana Supreme Court then in 2013 overruled Phillips’ decision to grant Beach a new trial and sent him back to Prison.

The Montana Board of Pardons and Paroles has on four previous occasions dating back to 1994 declined to hold a clemency hearing for Beach. The last time around, Bullock, former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, and dozens of current and former lawmakers, business leaders, and community leaders called on the Board to send Beach’s request to the Governor’s desk.

They did not.

Those denials were at the heart of an effort during the last legislative session to change Montana’s clemency laws to give the governor, not the Board, the final sate over the fate of prison inmates.

Bullock signed the law, which went into effect in October.

The new board moved quickly to send the request to Bullock’s desk, and Bullock said he would give it careful consideration.

I’ll have more on this story as it develops.