HELENA - An attorney for the man convicted in a 1979 Poplar slaying said Tuesday that his client Barry Beach should go free on bail now that a new trial has been ordered in the case.
Peter Camiel said that a bail petition is coming as soon as Wednesday for his client who is serving a 100-year sentence without the possibility of parole. Beach was convicted in 1984 based largely on a confession he gave to out-of-state police after he was picked up on another crime.
Beach argues he did not kill his schoolmate, 17-year-old Kim Nees, on a festive summer night at a popular riverside spot for teenagers to party as described in a 1983 confession to Louisiana police. Beach says that confession was coerced, and argues there is no evidence linking him to the crime.
Beach's case for innocence has been building over the years with the help of a long list of supporters. Last week District Judge Wayne Phillips ordered a new trial after determining that testimony pointing to a gang of girls as the real killers was "credible."
The attorney general has not yet decided whether to appeal the decision.
And at a hearing last summer, Phillips heard testimony from witnesses who said that over the years several women have recounted being present as a fight among teenage girls spun out of control and led to Nees' death. Beach has for years argued a gang of girls with relatives on the local police force were really responsible, but previously his claim had been rejected at every turn.
The judge, however, in saying the evidence raised enough doubt to order a new trial for Beach, also said it was not yet sufficient proof to set him free.
Camiel called it "an extremely strong decision" that should withstand appeal to the Montana Supreme Court if it is challenged by the Montana attorney general's office. Beach, who could walk be free on bail after a quarter century behind bars, is looking forward to a hearing.
"He is very excited," Camiel said. "But he knows it is not over yet."
Camiel said his client deserves a bail hearing later this month, saying Beach deserves to be out of prison until a new trial can take place.
"His conviction has essentially been reversed. It is as if he is newly charged," Camiel said.
Camiel said he expects the judge would allow bail, but said it could be too expensive for Beach to get.
"If the judge sets bail at, say $250,000, Barry is not going to be able to get out. His family cannot afford that," Camiel said.