Man freed after 3 decades in prison vows never to return

21 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘I never dreamed it was going to take this long': Inmate freed from Montana prison after three decades for 1979 murder of a high school honor student.

DEER LODGE, Mont. Barry Beach walked out of the Montana State Prison Friday a free man after serving three decades behind bars for a 1979 killing of a high school classmate that he has denied all along. ‘I knew it was going to be here someday,’ Beach said. ‘The good Lord in heaven has always assured me that I’d reach this point. Beach has been serving a 100-year sentence for deliberate homicide in the 1979 beating death of Kimberly Nees, 17, on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, in the northeast corner of the state. On Friday, Montana’s Democratic Governor Steve Bullock granted Beach’s clemency request, noting in his release order that the inmate was a 17-year-old juvenile at the time and exhibited good behavior in prison. The murder of honor student Nees gripped the small town of Poplar after her body was found alongside the river at a popular place for teenagers to party.

The killing remained unsolved for several years, with small-town gossip building until out-of-state police got Beach’s confession after picking him up on an unrelated crime. His long campaign for freedom drew support from hundreds, including Democratic US senator Jon Tester, former governor Brian Schweitzer and former Republican US senator Conrad Burns. Wayne Phillips gave too much weight to testimony offered by new witnesses and failed to adequately consider forensic evidence that pointed to a single attacker. A new law – inspired in large part by Beach’s case – gives Montana’s governor the final decision in clemency requests instead of the parole board. She said she became uncertain over the past two years and came to view him as “a con, a manipulator” who was willing to hurt others for his own benefit.

Under the clemency order, Bullock commuted Beach’s sentence to time served with an additional 10 years suspended, during which Beach will be on probation and supervised by the state department of corrections. Beach was released for 18 months beginning in 2011 after a state judge ordered a new trial based on witness testimony that Nees died in a fight among a gang of girls. In his order, Bullock did not directly weigh in on whether Beach was innocent or not, and a spokesman said the governor would have no further comment on the issue. Beach has demonstrated an extended period of good behavior both in and out of prison, and the reasons for maintaining his 100-year-without-parole sentence at taxpayer expense diminish with each passing year,” Bullock wrote. His mother, Bobbi Clincher, said Friday the hotel’s owner had told her the job was still available for Beach, and she expected he would resume working there soon.

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