Barry Beach Surrenders to Authorities in Billings
At 11am today, Barry Beach surrendered himself to the custody of the Yellowstone County Sheriff. The Department of Corrections is working with the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office to arrange secure transportation to the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge. There he will continue serving his 100-year sentence for the 1979 murder of Kimberly Nees, a Poplar High School honors student.
Three decades ago, a jury convicted Beach of deliberate homicide after confessing to the murder of Kimberly Nees. Beach’s confession provided details that law enforcement had not shared with the general public and which only the killer would have known. Beach, who had been drinking alcohol, was upset that the victim resisted his sexual advances. He described bludgeoning the victim with a tire iron and crescent wrench and then standing over the body in disbelief at what he had done. Though Beach has never contended that he did not confess, he has asserted over the years that his confession was coerced. His challenges to his confession have been inconsistent and contradictory, ranging from his claiming that he was threatened with the death penalty, to asserting that sworn law enforcement officers made sexual advances on him, to claiming he was deprived of food, to claiming that officers drugged him with a milkshake. Until 2011, every state and federal court to consider Beach’s challenges to his confession rejected his claims.
In 2011, District Court Judge E. Wayne Phillips granted Beach a new trial and ordered that he be released from prison pending that trial. The State of Montana appealed the District Court’s decision to the State Supreme Court.
Yesterday afternoon, the Supreme Court issued its decision that the District Court erred in ruling that Beach should receive a new trial. A majority of Supreme Court justices found that the District Court applied the wrong legal standards to Beach’s claim of actual innocence, failed to conduct a proper review of the evidence of the crime adduced at trial, including Beach’s detailed confession, and erred in its consideration of that evidence. The Supreme Court thoroughly reviewed both the old and new evidence in Beach’s case and concluded that he failed to provide reliable, new evidence of his actual innocence that displaced the trial evidence and thus his conviction. Beach’s conviction is valid. Therefore, like every other person convicted of murder, Beach is required to serve his prison sentence.
The Supreme Court’s decision is consistent with the 2007 unanimous decision of the three-member Clemency Panel, which performed an exhaustive inquiry into Mr. Beach’s case. The Supreme Court’s decision concurs with the Clemency Panel’s conclusion that Mr. Beach’s allegations lack substance when closely scrutinized.
“Attorneys at the Montana Department of Justice, in particular Assistant Attorney General Tammy Plubell and Prosecution Services Bureau Chief Brant Light, worked hard on this case and conducted themselves with a steadfast professionalism that should make all Montanans proud,” Attorney General Tim Fox said. “It was their job to defend a lawful conviction that is many years old, and they did it appropriately. Their diligent efforts honor the memory of Kimberly Nees and hopefully bring about some sense of closure for her mother, Diane Nees.”