HELENA – A man convicted of killing a high-school classmate in 1979 filed a new clemency request now that the law has changed to give the final decision to the governor instead of the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole.
Barry Beach was sentenced to 100 years in prison after being convicted in 1984 of deliberate homicide in the beating death of 17-year-old Kim Nees in Poplar. He has steadfastly denied killing Nees, and his cause has been taken up by a large and vocal group of supporters, among them current and former Montana politicians.
The board denied Barry Beach's last request – his fourth – last year even though Gov. Steve Bullock said he wanted to consider the application. Previously, the board had the final say if it decided to deny an inmate's clemency application.
The law that went into effect Oct. 1 allows the governor to grant clemency even if the board recommends against it. The board now must take re-submitted applications that were previously denied, decide whether further investigation or a hearing is needed, then forward the application and a recommendation to the governor's office within 10 days of completing its assessment.
The change in the law was driven in part by Beach's case. His attorney submitted the new clemency application to the pardons and parole board on Tuesday.
"He has now served over 32 years in prison for a crime that occurred when he was 17 years old," the application says of Beach. "He is now 53 years old. Over the past three decades he has concretely demonstrated that he is able and willing to fulfill the obligations of a law-abiding citizen."
The board will set a date to consider the application after an analyst completes a preliminary report, executive director Timothy Allred said.
In April 2014, Bullock asked the parole board in a letter to consider whether Beach had served enough prison time, though he stopped short saying he supported Beach's request. The governor cited Beach's being a juvenile at the time of the crime and his good behavior when he was freed for 18 months starting in 2011 while awaiting a new trial.
The Montana Supreme Court sent Beach back to prison after overturning a district judge's order for a new trial based on witness testimony that Nees died in a fight among a gang of girls.
Bullock spokesman Mike Wessler said Thursday that the governor will withhold any statement on the clemency request until he receives and reviews the application.