HELENA — Barry Beach, who is serving a 100-year prison sentence for a 1979 murder he says he didn’t commit, has been given unprecedented opportunity to argue his innocence and for a reduced sentence and deserves no more, the state said in a filing with the Montana Supreme Court.
Attorney General Tim Fox made the arguments last week in a response to Beach’s request that he be re-sentenced with consideration for the fact that he was 17 at the time of Kimberly Nees’ death near Poplar.
Attorneys for Beach argued that a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling requires judges to consider a defendant’s age, maturity level, circumstances of the offense and the possibility of rehabilitation when sentencing juvenile offenders.
The state argues District Judge James Sorte considered all of those things in 1984 and followed state law in effect at the time of the offense when he sentenced Beach to prison without the possibility of parole.
Beach appealed his sentence arguing it was motivated by a desire for vengeance and amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. The reply brief noted the Supreme Court rejected his arguments.
“Since his direct appeal, Beach has repeatedly and unsuccessfully challenged his conviction in state and federal courts,” Fox wrote.
Beach filed applications for clemency in 1994, 2005, 2006 and 2013, arguing in part that his confession was coerced and there is no physical evidence linking him to the crime. Each application was denied. In 2011, District Judge E. Wayne Phillips granted Beach a new trial and ordered him released from prison, but the Supreme Court overturned Phillips’ ruling 18 months later and Beach was returned to prison.
His latest effort makes arguments based on several recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that the state agrees demonstrate “evolving concerns unique to sentencing juvenile offenders,” but the state argues the circumstances of those cases do not match those in Beach’s case.
“Finally, while Beach assures this Court that he is rehabilitated from a crime he claims he did not commit and is worthy of release, it is important to keep in mind that he has publicly accused at least three Native American women of committing the murder, and in so doing, has forever scarred their lives,” the state argued.
The state concludes that “Beach repeatedly manages to be the beneficiary of hearings and procedures that no other convicted criminal is allowed. Beach is entitled to nothing more.”
The Supreme Court has not ruled on Beach’s motion.