HELENA – A judge decided that a man can live unsupervised as the Montana Supreme Court mulls a state request to reinstate his conviction for a 1979 murder in Poplar.
Barry Beach was released last year to live with supporters after a judge said new evidence cast doubts on his conviction for the killing of a 17-year-old girl on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.
Judge E. Wayne Phillips determined that recollections of others from the time could be sufficient to support Beach’s assertion that the death of Kim Nees was the result of an out-of-control fight among teenage girls.
State prosecutors are appealing that decision to the state’s high court.
Phillips wrote in a decision this week that Beach can now live on his own. However, the judge noted that if Beach breaks the rules of his release, he could be forced to return to jail until the case is resolved.
Phillips said “the sword of Damocles hanging over his head” won’t allow the normal life Beach is seeking but added that he trusted Beach to live unsupervised based on his conduct so far.
Beach told the court he would like to rent a home with shop facilities for his home repair business. The judge said in his order that Beach must notify the state if he moves from that address.
Prosecutors unsuccessfully argued that Beach is a flight risk because the Supreme Court could rule against him and send him back to prison.
The Montana attorney general’s office argued the new evidence supporting Beach’s release was unreliable and fueled by years of rumor-mongering in Poplar.
The original conviction relies on a lengthy statement Beach gave to out-of-state police several years after the crime. In it, Beach said he tried to kiss Nees and became angry when she fought back.
Beach and his supporters counter that it carries the hallmarks of a coerced confession.
Both sides have said it could take the Supreme Court up to a year to sort through the case.