Barry Beach: A Light…

It looks like convicted murderer Barry Beach has at least two more chances to be freed from prison. Beach is serving a 100-year prison sentence for the 1979 murder of Kimberly Nees near Poplar, Montana.

Beach’s case came to light back in 2008 when a show on Dateline NBC called “The Killing at Poplar River” aired. Beach contends he was coerced into a confession. His case has bounced around the justice system in Montana, and for about 18 months he was even freed from prison.

He has an appeal pending before the Montana Supreme Court. Just this week a bill was signed by the Montana governor that, according to the Associated Press, will allow the governor to grant clemency to prisoners even if the state parole board recommends against it. The governor can also waive fines, lessen a sentence, or issue a pardon.

The law takes effect Oct. 1, 2015.

I’ve probably written about Barry Beach more than most. It all started back in April 2008, and this will be the 30th column in which I mention Beach. You can read them all by going to “categories” on the right side of the screen and selecting “Barry Beach” from the dropdown menu.

From the beginning I said Beach deserved a new trial and that he certainly deserves clemency. One thing that has been amazing through this whole ordeal is watching Beach’s supporters. They march, they write letters, and they attend meetings. They are very vocal and a force to be reckoned with.

Probably before the law takes effect Oct. 1, the Montana Supreme Court will make a decision. I expect the court to rule against Beach. It will be interesting to watch how Governor Steve Bullock handles his new power. Bullock, a Democrat, is running for reelection in 2016. It may sicken your stomach to think of it, but pardons and clemency requests are very political.

I expect Bullock to grant Beach clemency sometime in 2016. The best time for Bullock would be in the September-October timeframe, but that is waiting a long time and if Bullock waits that long, it would smell of politics.

No matter when it happens, the publicity will be enormous when Beach walks out of prison – perfect for a political campaign. I can almost see the 30-second campaign ad already! The only thing that would make it better for Bullock would be for Beach to be wearing a “Bullock 2016” shirt when he walks out of the Montana State Prison gates.

Nonetheless, Barry Beach may finally be seeing a light at the end of the tunnel – and it’s Governor Steve Bullock holding the flashlight…

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