Bullock grants clemency to Barry Beach - KXLH.com | Helena, Montana

Bullock grants clemency to Barry Beach

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Barry Beach released from the Montana State Prison on Friday, November 20, 2015 (MTN News file photo) Barry Beach released from the Montana State Prison on Friday, November 20, 2015 (MTN News file photo)
Barry Beach supporters rally in Great Falls (MTN News file photo) Barry Beach supporters rally in Great Falls (MTN News file photo)

After spending more than three decades in the Montana State Prison for a murder he says he didn't commit, Barry Beach is a free man.

Beach, 53, was released from the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge on Friday after Governor Steve Bullock granted his request for clemency.

Bullock's executive order directs Beach's sentence to time served, with an additional 10 years suspended.

Beach will be required to serve the suspended portion on probation.

"It's almost over," said Stella Ziegler, a longtime Beach supporter in Billings. "Once he's out we can all get our lives back."

Bullock did not release a statement about the decision, but the order notes that Beach was 17 years old at the time of the crime and that he has served more than 30 years for a crime that happened when he was a juvenile.

The order also notes that during three decades of incarceration Beach has "maintained a good institutional record," and during 18 months of freedom in Billings several years ago he "demonstrated that he is capable of living a productive life and respecting society's rules." 

Beach was convicted and sentenced in 1984 to 100 years without parole for the 1979 murder of Nees.

Beach maintained he was innocent of the crime, claiming that police in Louisiana coerced him to confess to the murder.

The development Friday appears to end one of the most high-profile and litigated criminal cases in recent Montana history.

In 2011, a state District Court judge granted Beach a new trial, finding that there was potential new evidence in the case. The judge then released Beach from prison without bond while the state appealed the decision to the Montana Supreme Court.

He spent 18 months living in Billings until, on a 4-3 vote, the Montana Supreme Court overturned that ruling and sent Beach back to prison to serve out his sentence.

Bullock's decision to grant Beach clemency follows a law passed earlier this year by the Montana Legislature which allows the governor to overrule decisions by the Montana Board of Pardons & Parole. 

Earlier requests submitted to the board on Beach's behalf were rejected.

Beach filed his latest petition to the Parole Board in October asking to shorten or otherwise commute his sentence, allowing him to be paroled or freed. The petition did not address whether he’s guilty or innocent of Nees’ murder.

Bullock publicly supported Beach last year when he wrote a letter to the parole board suggesting it not consider whether he is guilty or innocent, but whether he had served enough time in prison.

"Mr. Beach committed his crime as a juvenile, served 30 years for that crime, has conducted himself appropriately both inside and outside of prison, and if his sentence were commuted, he would continue under state supervision," Bullock said in the letter. "Therefore, if the hearing panel decides to forward a recommendation of clemency, I will carefully consider that recommendation." 

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