HELENA – A Poplar man sentenced to 100 years in prison without the possibility of parole for a 1979 murder will get another hearing in his effort to prove he is innocent.
The Montana Supreme Court on Tuesday sent Barry Beach’s case back to District Court in Roosevelt County for a hearing “to assess Beach’s allegedly newly discovered evidence.”
The high court said District Judge David Cybulski’s “skeletal” order in March 2008 did not include the analysis on which he based his decision to deny a hearing on Beach’s petition for post-conviction relief.
Beach was convicted in 1984 in the death of Kim Nees, 17, on the Fort Peck Reservation.
He has argued his confession was coerced and there is no physical evidence linking him to the crime. The state argued that Beach’s confession, obtained in New Orleans with three other murder confessions that were later thrown out, included elements of the crime that investigators had not figured out.
Beach’s petition also argued that testimony by others before the state Board of Pardons and Parole in 2007 connected a group of girls to Nees’ murder. However, the board called that testimony double and triple hearsay that would not have been admissible in court. The board rejected his petition to be pardoned, have his sentence commuted to time served or allow him the possibility of parole.
Beach’s attorney, Peter Camiel of Seattle, said the Supreme Court order sends the case back to District Court for the judge to decide if the testimony given before the state Board of Pardons and Parole and other corroborating evidence “is in fact new evidence,” or was available at the time Beach was tried.
If the judge finds that the testimony linking a group of girls to the crime is new evidence, he must then hear from those witnesses along with the state’s cross-examination and decide if there is a “reasonable probability” that a new jury hearing the case have a reasonable doubt about Beach’s guilt.
“Basically, Barry Beach gets his day in court,” said Camiel, who was hired by the national innocence group Centurion Ministries.
If the judge finds in favor of Beach on the second issue, he would get a new trial, said Camiel, who had not had a chance to talk to Beach Tuesday afternoon.
The state attorney general’s office declined to comment on the ruling.
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