HELENA – In a 4-3 decision, the Montana Supreme Court Tuesday overturned a lower-court ruling that had granted a new trial for convicted murderer Barry Beach, likely sending him back to the Montana State Prison.

The high court majority reversed a judge’s 2011 ruling in the high-profile case, saying District Judge Wayne Phillips of Lewistown did not properly weigh both the new evidence provided by Beach and old evidence at Beach’s trial 29 years ago for the 1979 murder of Kimberly Nees near Poplar.

“Beach’s new evidence – in the form of testimony that is primarily hearsay, internally inconsistent, and inconsistent with evidence presented at Beach’s 1984 trial – does not reliably displace the evidence tested at Beach’s trial, including his confession,” Supreme Court Justice Jim Rice wrote for the four-person majority.

Beach, who’s been free and working in Billings for 18 months, told the Associated Press late Tuesday that he didn’t know what the decision meant, and that he had just found out about it.

Montana Department of Justice spokesman John Barnes said state attorneys working on the case were still reading the opinion and wouldn’t comment until Wednesday.

Authorities said it’s likely an arrest warrant will be issued for Beach to return him to the Montana State Prison to serve out the rest of his sentence, but details on the process weren’t clear Tuesday evening.

Beach has claimed his innocence for many years and his case has drawn national attention.

Centurion Ministries of Princeton, N.J., a group that works to exonerate the wrongly convicted, began working on the case a decade ago and the case was the focus of a “Dateline NBC” episode in 2008.

Beach confessed to the crime in 1983, under questioning by police in Louisiana, was convicted by a Roosevelt County jury the next year and sentenced to 100 years in prison. Yet Beach later said he was coerced into a false confession, and that a group of girls had fatally beaten Nees on June 16, 1979, near Poplar in northeast Montana.

While Beach failed on many attempts to overturn his conviction, he finally succeeded in December 2011, when Phillips ruled that new evidence in the case showed that Beach may be innocent and he should have a new trial.

Phillips made the ruling after a three-day hearing, at which several people testified they had heard, heard about or seen a group of women who appeared or claimed to be involved in the beating death of Nees.

Beach was released to the custody of Billings businessman James “Ziggy” Ziegler, who met Beach through a prison prayer service in the 1980s. Since his release, Beach has been living at Ziegler’s home and working as a maintenance manager at the Best Western Clocktower Inn in Billings.

Ziegler said Tuesday that he and Beach learned about the Supreme Court ruling from reporters.

“You would think it’s sort of a cheap shot, putting this out at 3:30 in the afternoon and the media informs Barry, who didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “I’m just devastated. We’re trying to figure out what the options are.”

Ziegler said he and his wife, Stella, planned to meet with Beach and Beach’s attorneys to decide their next steps.

Beach’s mother, Roberta Clincher of Laurel, also said Tuesday that his attorneys are trying to figure out what the decision means for her son’s future.


Joining Rice in Tuesday’s Supreme Court majority were Justices Beth Baker and Laurie McKinnon, who was elected to the high court in November, and state District Judge Richard Simonton of Glendive, who sat in for Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath.

Justice Brian Morris wrote the dissent, saying Judge Phillips was in the best position to evaluate the credibility of those who testified before him at the 2011 hearing.

“(Phillips) has presided over at least 35 criminal trials and has experience gauging the credibility of witnesses,” Morris wrote. “I cannot say from this vantage point that the District Court’s determination regarding the witnesses’ credibility and believability rises to the level of clearly erroneous.”

Morris, who was joined by justices Mike Wheat and Patricia Cotter in the dissent, said Phillips did consider Beach’s confession while making his ruling, and that the ruling should stand.

“This ruling marks what likely will be the final chapter in the saga of Barry Beach,” Morris wrote. “We oversee a criminal justice system that seeks to resolve a defendant’s guilt through processes created and administered by humans.

“Humans, by nature, are fallible and the processes that humans create share this same fallibility.”

Rice, however, said Phillips erred by not considering all of the other evidence presented at Beach’s trial, besides the confession, pointing to his guilt.

Rice’s opinion provided a detailed summary of the new evidence presented by Beach, and pointed out what he said were numerous weaknesses and discrepancies,

“In view of the contradictions between the new testimony and the objective evidence tested at trial, we must conclude that the new testimony does not provide a reliable account of Nees’ death that displaces the trial evidence upon which Beach was convicted,” Rice wrote.

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or by email at mike.dennison@lee.net.

(13) comments

johnny Dollar
johnny Dollar

Well.....this is a first. EVERYONE is in agreement that this man does not belong in jail.

Would I be correct to say the Governor could PARDON Beach and put this nightmare to an end? The man will never be the same after being in jail that long......but he looks like he has a lot of life to live, were he not chained by pathetic little men in black robes. The Governor seems to be "His own man"........would he break from the herd and use his executive power?

How about an online petition? Can we get 25,000 signitures? Yes.....I think so.


In the land of the free, not only can you be incarcerated for your entire adult life for something you obviously didn't commit, but you can be denied another trial. What would be the harm in another trial? If he's found gulty again lock him up, or even execute him. But that wouldnt' happen, because not only is there no evidence to implicate Barry, there is evidence that suggests that daughters of the politically well connected are the killers.


Well the "Good Ol' Boy Network of political Montana can't possible let District Judge Wayne Phillips decision stand could they. After all they must protect the fair-haired son of Montana, Former Republican Governor Marc Racicot, in spite of the fact that he has hundreds of deaths from the town of Libby Montana on his hands because he didn't have the nerve to stand up to WR Grace. Hmmmm?
Recuse-. to reject or challenge (a judge or juror) as disqualified to act, especially because of interest or bias.
Chief Justice, Mike McGrath served under the Governor Marc Raciciot as Attorney General
Justice Beth Baker served as Asst. Attorney General for the Dept.of Justice during the adminsitartion of Marc Macicot
James A. Rice, Appointed by former Governor Judy Martz served as Lt Governor under Marc Racicot.
Marc Racicot
From Serving History:
Racicot stood accused on the NBC Dateline program of misconduct in the case of Barry Beach and in taking part of an apparent coverup.
Racicot prosecuted Barry Beach of a murder in Poplar, Montana under circumstances that are questionable. Racicot was on Dateline on record as stating that bloody handprints found at the scene of the murder were of, “no probative value.” The case against Beach relied entirely on a taped confession that was later erased, as well as stating that evidence existed in open court that did not exist, such as a pubic hair that supposedly belonged to Barry Beach that was ruled inadmissible because a definite match could not be made and the hair could not even be found in the evidence locker. The general lack of evidence against Barry Beach has lead some to conclude that a wrongful conviction was obtained and a coverup had taken place that Racicot had taken part in, as well as that he had knowingly made false statements and perjured himself in open court. etc.
Apparently McGrath did not serve in the decision but appointed state District Judge Richard Simonton of Glendive, who was appopinted in 1999 by Mark Racicot Governor of Montana, serving between January 3, 1993 and January 1, 2001, including the whole of 1999.
1999 Montana Legislature
Justice in the corrupt Judicial State of Montana? Good luck on that one Barry.


Well said!


I've followed this case from the beginning and it's been a pathetic display of total injustice! The conviction of Barry was based on his confession alone. No person in their right mind confesses not only to one murder, but to the murder of two other girls from Louisiana that he didn't even know!? That confession was later thrown out because they caught the two guys who really did it. Coerced confessions happen all the time, so why is it so unbelievable in this case? This case reeks of political BS and it sickens me that people care more about their own personal political gain then another human beings life. I've said many prayers for you Barry and I'll continue to do so, because I for one, truly believe you're innocent and eventually the truth will come to light and you'll finally be physically free for good. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimberly_Nees_Murder


The reason I did not vote for McKinnon is she is a waste of legal space and she proves it here siding with the majority of the Court, who is operating the good old boy mentality. New evidence is pretty clear that it was a group of high school girls who committed this crime and that5 was the reason Beach was released in the first place. The Montana Innocence Project has been working on this case and will continue I am sure, but the idea that prosecutors never make a mistake ( McKinnon) and that confessions are not coerced by police is just myth. I am sure Beach will appeal to the 9th Circuit and bypass this Montana " good ol boy rancher old west" mentality and justice will prevail in the end.


Who hijacked your profile? you just said something that makes sense.


It is so sad about Barry. I truly in my heart he didn't commit the crime. So sorry,Barry

johnny Dollar
johnny Dollar

What's messed up is the man is going back to jail and there is no eye witness nor murder weapon to peg the crime on Beach......just an alleged "Confession." Let's be clear.....just about no one ever confesses to a capitol crime, unless under duress or under the influence.

WHAT we really have here is the "GOOD 'OL BOYS".......the lawyers, sticking together so they don't look smell like a gas station bathroom. The prosecutors stuck Beach with a bum rap and got got........not calvary came in and cleaned up the mess. Hmmmm.....we see a little of that in missoula as well.


In my opinion I think this state and the justice system is messed up. You let Barry out of prison two years ago then turn around and put him back in. I have personally met this guy and so has my son. The first time we met him my son said to me mom Barry did not do the crime. I seriously think you should consider things supreme court. You are locking up a innocent man and the letting the woman that did it walk.... Where is the justice there? I guess its true who you know and who you blow right? Im so so disguised with this state. We have a person that killed two people and injured one badly and wow he got 4 years. 40 years probation but he keeps to be out after 4 years and live his life. Another woman just recently got 6 months deferred she gets to do 30 days on house arrest and she killed a young man and injured the young mans gf. Now should it be the same penalty for everyone. There again justice system fails. Wake up justice system. Do you job for once and let a man that is innocent live his life. Haven you messed with his life enough. Grrrr... Pisses me off. Totally here for you Barry Beach don't give up.

Cats Life
Cats Life

Back to prison for good, you low-life killer.


I"m sure you have read so much about the case, and are fully educated on its background.


We should be thankful That Barry has a kind enough heart not to kill everyone who has wronged him, and make a run for it. At this point he has nothing to lose.

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