- Associated Press - Saturday, April 26, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Barry Beach said he was shocked to learn about Gov. Steve Bullock’s letter asking the state parole board to consider commuting his sentence for the 1979 beating death of a Poplar high-school classmate.

Beach, who is serving a 100-year prison sentence for the killing of 17-year-old Kim Nees, has applied for clemency with the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole. A review of the application is scheduled for Tuesday in Deer Lodge.

Last week, Bullock took the unusual step of writing the parole board to ask that the board consider whether Beach has served enough time in prison for a killing that happened when Beach was a juvenile. The governor cited a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that barred juveniles from receiving life sentences, saying they have the capacity to change.

“I was really truly shocked,” Beach told Lee Newspapers of Montana from the Montana State Prison on Friday. “I truly am thankful for Gov. Bullock doing so, and I applaud him for the courage to write such a letter - especially since he was the attorney general who filed the appeal to bring me back to prison in the first place.”

Beach was convicted in 1984, then freed for 18 months after a district judge ordered a new trial in 2011 in light of evidence that Nees may have been killed in a fight among a gang of girls. The Montana Supreme Court overturned that ruling after Bullock filed his appeal, sending Beach back to prison to serve the rest of his sentence.

Beach has maintained his innocence, but Bullock said in his letter that the convicted murderer’s application was not about guilt or innocence. Rather, it was about Beach’s good behavior in prison and during the period he was free in Billings, along with his age when the slaying happened and the diminishing value to taxpayers of keeping Beach incarcerated.

Beach said he didn’t know about Bullock’s letter until other inmates told him Wednesday, and that he didn’t believe them until his mother read him parts of the letter.

“Hopefully the board can follow suit and make a decision based on that,” he said.

The board will consider whether to accept the application and investigate further. If it does not, Beach’s sentence will stand.

Beach will not attend the hearing.

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