Barry Beach has spent nearly 30 years in Montana prison, despite persuasive evidence that he is innocent of murder, and now it is time for the State of Montana to free him to be a productive citizen in our community. If something is not done now, Barry will spend the remainder of his life behind bars.
As a young man being interrogated by Louisiana police, Barry falsely confessed to an unsolved Poplar, Montana, murder and was convicted and sentenced to 100 years, no parole. Barry has persistently maintained his innocence but has struggled to prove it in court, in part because the state destroyed critical DNA evidence. But we know that more than 25% of people later exonerated by DNA evidence falsely confessed, and we know that the criminal justice system sometimes makes critical mistakes.
In 2011, after a district judge heard two days of detailed testimony from several witnesses who had received repeated confessions from the real killers, and a credible eyewitness to the murder, he ordered a new trial and released Barry into the care of local supporters active in prison ministry. Barry started his own business and worked full-time, was active in his church and other volunteer activities, and successfully rebuilt a life with his family after 29 years of separation.
But on May 14, 2013, a split Montana Supreme Court overruled the new trial order, and the next day Barry returned to prison after 18 months of thriving as a free man. The mayor of Billings, Montana, where Barry lived, called his return to prison a loss for the community.
Although a slim majority of the court said the district judge had applied the wrong legal standard and dismissed Barry's case, the dissenting justices lamented this "final chapter" as a mistake that may cement an injustice, observing that "we are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final," and noting unresolved questions such as the fact that no witnesses or physical evidence had tied Barry to the murder.
It is unjust and unacceptable for an innocent Montana man who has recently proven himself as a law-abiding, productive citizen to spend the rest of his life in prison. As concerned people from all walks of life who pay taxes and are active in our communities, we cannot allow this to happen. An injustice to one is an injustice to all. We call upon the state of Montana to find a way to achieve justice for Barry Beach and return him to our community so that he can continue to live as a productive, law-abiding free man.
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