Barry Beach served nearly 29 years behind bars for a murder that he has maintained for decades that he didn’t commit. In 2011, a Montana district judge freed him after finding that new evidence discovered by his legal team could alter his original 1984 conviction.
After being released from prison in December 2011, Beach enjoyed 18 months of tenuous freedom. The Montana Supreme Court, however, ended that on May 14, when it reversed the lower court’s decision, reinstating Beach’s sentence. He was returned to prison to continue serving a life term.
Beach’s supporters, including the New Jersey-based Centurion Ministries, which works to clear the wrongly convicted, call the Supreme Court’s decision cruel. They say that it wholly discounts the reams of evidence his legal team has discovered proving that Beach isn’t responsible for the murder of Kim Nees in 1979 on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.
Beach was convicted based on a confession that he provided to Louisiana detectives in 1983. He and his supporters have consistently maintained that the admission was coerced by heavy handed tactics waged by unscrupulous Louisiana detectives who subjected him to a seven-plus hour interrogation. After detectives threatened him with the electric chair, Beach says that he “broke weak” and confessed to murdering Nees.
Law enforcement maintains that its questioning was appropriate. But a recent article by the Great Falls Tribune’s John S. Adams cast additional doubt on that assertion. Adams reports that one of the detectives who interrogated Beach in 1983, John “Jay” Via, has solicited at least two false confessions beyond the contested admissions that Beach provided to him. The article also details a string of admonishments and suspensions doled out to Via throughout his three-decade-long career.
Adams’ story adds important context to Beach’s ongoing fight to clear himself of the crime. For those following the case, it’s definitely worthy of a read.