Return to Poplar RiverDateline NBC
- 2,364 views
- 6 Apr 2021
In this Dateline classic, the small town of Poplar, Montana is shaken when police find the battered body of 17-year-old Kim Nees on the outskirts of town. Keith Morrison reports.
She was the well-liked valedictorian at Poplar High and one summer night down by the river.
I could hear all these girls saying, get her taste in her and her a horrible scream.
Some in town claim this was a murder by a gang of mean girls, though. She's the one who was convicted, sent to prison. I did not kill Chemnitz. You have my promise. Sentenced to one hundred years. Guilty as charged. Not one moment of doubt. But did he really commit this crime? That's the question that drew us to this case and drove us to investigate how after the Dateline piece with these witnesses had the courage to come forward.
And a dramatic new development, a whole new ending.
It was the last thing we ever anticipated happening. I'm Lester Holt and this is Dateline.
And here's Keith Morrison with a return to Poplar River.
There is a common misconception that momentous events occur in great cities, the justices handed down true and pure from marble palaces. But what would Lady Justice say about the story you're going to hear now about a nobody in a nowhere town, a story that is well, but what they say. This is crazy. How can you do this? I couldn't believe it. This is definitely a shock. Yes, it's all of those things. Shocking, unbelievable. Crazy and tied with an unbreakable chain to a summer night in a poor, forgotten backwater more than 40 years ago.
The town is Papa Montana, June 15th, 1979. Summer was here. School was out. Kim, these 17 school valedictorian, National Honor Society graduate, was finally about to escape this town for college.
Round about midnight, Kim left her house to join the end of school party.
It was the next morning when police found the family pickup at a well-known party spot just half a mile outside town. They follow the trail of blood from the truck down a rutted dirt track, 250 feet or so to the Poplar River. And there they found the battered body of Chimney's, the term I've used as overkill.
Dean Mouallem was an undersheriff and later, the county sheriff in charge of the murder investigation.
There were twenty or twenty one blows received Kim's skull, which any of could have caused her her death. There was rage involved. It was a high, high level of rage. Someone was very angry at the crime scene.
There was no shortage of evidence. Blood everywhere inside the cab of the pickup fingerprints, more than two dozen multiple footprints in and around the trail where Kim's body was dragged to the river and on the truck near the passenger door, a palm print in blood. The FBI looked at the print, said it would have to have been left by the killer.
We worked very, very, very, very hard at determining who that was, why Kim Mayes wasn't a robbery or a sexual assault.
People do talk. And around town, the story was that this was sort of a jealousy killing. Kim was popular. She was attractive. She was class valedictorian. The boys loved her and she was about to leave popular behind for good. So the story was that this was local kids, mostly girls who beat her to death.
So I went the rumor that was one of the again, if you will, the theories that folks around town had is that there may have been three or four of Kim's peers that were involved with with her death.
Bobby Clincher heard the talk. She lived down the block from the NIS family. What did you hear?
Her grandfather had told me?
All indications are that it was girls, though many of populars, teens, boys and girls wound up on a list of potential suspects, including Bobby Sunbury, who'd once dated Kim's sister.
Did you question him harshly about it? He said repeatedly he didn't know anything about it. The only thing he knew was what he had heard, what he'd been told.
That's what all the kids told the police to do. And nothing happened. Nobody was arrested. Three years went by. And then in January, nineteen eighty three, Sheriff Mouallem picked up the phone and found himself talking to a detective way down south.
He asked if I was aware of an individual named Barry Beach, wanted to know if he, Mr. Beach, was or had ever been a suspect in a homicide in Roseville County.
Barry was almost twenty one by then. He'd gone to Louisiana to be with his father and stepmother wasn't going well. In fact, his stepmother had him arrested for helping his stepsister skip school and then told arriving police officers that Barry was once questioned about the murder of Kim Nese in Montana. Well, it just so happened investigators in Louisiana were scratching their heads over the murders of three women in their own county. So could Beach be their killer?
My feeling from talking to the sheriff, Marlin, was the fact that, you know, he was a viable suspect.
So by the detective who called the Montana sheriff, interrogated Bech about the Louisiana murders.
What made you think that he was the kind of guy who would be your prime suspect, the fact that he was a suspect in a murder already?
So the detective put Barry in a little room here at the Washtub Parish Sheriff's Office and grilled him for two days. Very denied everything, of course. But after many hours of questioning, Berry's answers about Kim, these changed according to juvie anyway.
Yeah, we asking me, were you responsible? And during this part of the interview, he kept saying, I don't remember if I was or not.
Seeing the detective was joined in his work by Commander Alfred Calhoun, known as something of a closure by stepped out of the room while the commander worked on Barry Alford step out of the interview room and said he wants to talk to you.
And so when I walked in the room, there was crime and he admitted to killing Kimberly.
Next, the mystery was solved. All the rumors about other suspects, including that group of girls long whispered up in connection with the crime, were apparently wrong by a library to call his mother back in Montana. And I said, Barry, why did you confess to something you didn't do? And he said, well, they're going to come back to Montana and they're going to help me prove that I didn't do this.
But in Montana, helping Bury Beach was not on the menu. First degree murder was very pleaded not guilty, but when his trial began at the courthouse in Glasgow, Montana, the prosecutor came on very strong.
I had a detailed confession that only the killer could have given within a decade.
Mark Roscoe would be elected Montana's governor in 1984, though, he prosecuted Barry Beach.
He gave a very detailed confession that matched the things that were discovered at the crime scene.
Like what? Well, Beech described the shirt. Kim wore the tire iron and crescent wrench used to kill her, how she was dragged out the driver's side of the pickup on and on. When testimony was finished, the jury was back in just six hours. The verdict guilty. And so in the spring of 1984, the story of the life of Barry Beach was apparently over. A dead man walking, sentenced to 100 years. No parole. But of course, who are we fooling?
The amazing story of really just. Why would Barry Beach confess to a crime he says he didn't commit? If he's innocent, as he claims, can he somehow prove it?
When we come back, a closer look at the evidence, where it points and where it doesn't. It's not Barry Beach's palm print. Life in prison can do terrible things to a man, suck out whatever spark of goodness that might once have saved him, and instead make him mean bitter, a hopeless case. So we were in for something of a surprise when we first met Barry Beach back in 2007, by then he was forty five. It's been more than half his life in the Montana state prison was destined to die here, but he didn't act like it.
You're not going to get out of here, are you?
When they gave me one hundred years, that means they gave me one hundred years to prove that I didn't commit the crime that put me behind prison bars, didn't commit the crime.
How could he claim such a thing? After all, he confessed. What more was there to say? Well, actually, quite a bit. Warnings have to acquire, boy, were you. No, sir, I drove fast cars I liked rock and roll and unite the party every chance I got to be honest with you.
And what really happened? He said on the day of the murder in June nineteen seventy nine was this. He was drinking and smoking dope and swimming in the Poplar River outside town.
By the time he walked a mile back home, he said, I actually just went straight to my bedroom and went to sleep with damages somewhere between five and six o'clock in the evening.
So when Chimney's was murdered, he said he was fast asleep. But even though his sister swore that he was telling the truth, there was that confession.
You said you killed that girl up in Montana. Yes, sir. I said that I killed Chemnitz.
And that's where the story enters the twilight zone. Barry Beach says he believed he was about to be released from prison. Those minor charges called in by his stepmother about to be dropped when suddenly he found himself in an interrogation room answering questions about murder. Those detectives seem to think he had committed those three unsolved Louisiana murders, the murders they were trying so very hard to solve.
Next thing I know, they had started showing me pictures of dead bodies and told me, remember doing this? And I'd say I was telling him I didn't do it. I didn't kill anyone. But as the day wore on and his anxiety, fatigue and confusion grew, the door opened and in walked Commander Alfred Calhoun. He promised me that he would personally see me frying the Louisiana electric chair. What were you feeling in the middle of all this?
I was scared to death, Keith, but I knew that he would excuse me if given the chance and said in the dark turned to that murder in Montana, the murder of Kim D.
Well, it started off that they asked me to speculate how it happened. And then I was asked to give a hypothetical story using myself as the perpetrator.
And then he said he heard those detectives tell him that if you just went ahead and gave them a confession, they'd help him prove his innocence later when they got back to Montana.
I don't deny that the confession took place. I don't remember all the details. But, Barry, come on. I really don't think I'm going to tell a police officer I killed the girl. If I didn't kill her, why would you do it? I was a 20 year old kid twenty three hundred miles away from my real home. They scared me so bad I would have said anything to get away from anything to make it stop.
And Barry couldn't get anybody in authority to believe his version of things, though for decades he filed appeals, wrote letters. Would anyone ever listen? Apparently not until one of those letters reached him.
But we get eleven, twelve hundred letters a year from people asking for our help.
This is the Reverend Jim McCluskey, the founder of a group called Centurion Ministries and Centurion, running back then with a small staff of six people paid only through donations as compiled quite a record over thirty eight years, McCluskey's group was freed from prison or death row.
Sixty three men and women wrongly convicted.
Do you have to be convinced beyond any doubt that somebody is actually innocent?
Yes, we do. We don't take a case on unless we are convinced of the person's innocence.
So before Centurion would commit to Berry's case, its investigators had to check out that confession.
There is a signed confession. You ask anybody around the country, of course he did it.
There have been over two hundred men exonerated by DNA from sexual assaults or murder, convicted, imprisoned, who have later been freed and exonerated. Twenty five percent of those men have falsely confessed to that crime when arrested under interrogation.
But the jury found that in the case of Barry Beach, the chance for DNA testing had been lost because of all the testable evidence from the case had somehow disappeared from Montana's crime lab. The fingerprints were still in the record, though, and this was curious. Not a single one of them matched Berry. Neither did any of the multiple sets of footprints left behind as Kim's body was dragged from the pickup to the river. And what physical evidence there was did not match Barry's confession.
What did he get wrong? Well, for one thing, Barry told the interrogators that Kim had tried to get away from him by scrambling out the driver's side door of the truck, but the evidence showed she'd actually come. The passenger side door right where that still unidentified bloody palm print was found.
It's not Barry Beach's palm print, it's not Kim. These palm print, after she was attacked inside the vehicle, her killers pulled her out, deposited her on the ground, and one of them close the door. There was more in the confession, Beach told the police his fingerprints weren't found on the truck because he wiped them off and wondered how in heaven's name could Beach wipe off his prints but leave more than two dozen others all over the inside of the truck undisturbed?
Quite a few such oddities didn't match. The confession didn't quite add up, but once Barry gave his confession, then it became immaterial and irrelevant to the truth of the matter.
How could that happen? Well, Centurion managed to get hold of a former sheriff's department employee who told them that she fielded about a dozen calls between the sheriff and the Louisiana detective during Barry Beach's interrogation. I mean, his confession was coerced or even dictated somehow. Evidence how some of those calls, it turned out, were transcribed and at one point the sheriff tells the detective that she was wearing a plaid shirt, Kim was when she was murdered. Sure enough.
And Barry's confession, he says she was wearing a plaid shirt. Trouble was, she wasn't wearing a plaid shirt. That was wrong.
The detectives denied any wrongdoing. They said Oldbury statements were voluntary and they didn't put any words in his mouth.
You never got information from Dean Martin that you were able to pass on to Barry in the course of the conversation you had with him where he confessed? No, not one bit. Absolutely not.
That is a totally false statement, an allegation, but with a little digging Centurion uncovered. But it believed to be some pretty disturbing information about the Louisiana detectives. Remember those three Louisiana murders, the detectives Question Beach about? Well, months later, the same detectives filed charges against two men from whom they extracted yes confessions. Their charges were later dropped. Those confessions revealed to be false Centurion attorney Peter Camille. So you've got detectives with a track record of claiming that they've got detailed confessions with people with with information that only the killer could know.
And those are false confessions. And it speaks volumes about what they claim to be the validity of Barry's confession.
But if Barry Beach did not kill Kim Nese, then who did? And that's what makes this case a little different, because Centurion's team not only believes Barry Beach is innocent, but that it knows who is guilty.
Coming up, troubling recollections, she was talking about how the wrong person got put in jail. What a strange thing to hear. They gave me the creeps. She said, we got away with the perfect crime.
When Dateline continues. By 2007, Barry Beach had been behind bars in Montana for 24 years, for 10 of those years, Interior Ministry investigators dug around for anything, anything at all that would indicate Barry did or did not kill Kim Nese back in the summer of 79.
And they were more convinced than ever.
He was an innocent man. We have not. Develop any information that would tell us, hey, maybe Barry's guilty, because if we did, I can assure you that Centurion Ministries would have dropped this case years ago and moved on to more fertile fields.
But it was the secrets in this old town that persuaded Centuri. And it had a different kind of case that was able to say not only Barry Beach was innocent, but that it knew or thought it knew who might be the real killers. But twenty five years, the rumors had persisted that a group of girls killed Kim Neace. And now Centurion's investigators encountered more than just rumors.
And investigators turned up witnesses who claimed one of those girls, now a middle aged woman, had implicated herself in the murder. This is that woman. Her name, Sissy Atkinson.
She was talking about the Kaminis murder and how the wrong person got put in jail.
This man said he heard Sissy making incriminating statements in a factory where they both worked.
She looked at me and she said, you got away with perfect the perfect crime. Nor was he the only one who heard Sissy putting yourself at the murder. One of the others was about the last person you think would ever come forward.
I think Kim Nese is looking over his shoulder all the time. This man's name is J.D. His last name Atkinson.
Yes, Sissy Atkinson's brother. He was in prison on drug related charges when we talked to him. He'd heard the rumors, of course.
And one night he said he was talking to Cissy when she was a little.
Hi, did your sister Cissy tell you that she was there the night that chimney's was killed? Well, the way she said that that they were partying down there and there were other girls there, too.
Yeah. How much did she get out before she dropped off? Just that one of them girls come running around to pick up with a crescent wrench.
Jade said his sister passed out before she could say anymore.
One of the things we keep hearing from the from the state is these girls, if they were involved, wouldn't have kept quiet. Somebody would have heard something over the years.
And these people who have come forward did hear something since he was fifty one when we met her in twenty seven and an admitted drug addict, she was perhaps understandably not entirely happy to still be facing questions about a murder more than three decades old.
I told those ministry guys, I said, when we all die and go to heaven and you guys find out that I had no knowledge of it, I hope you guys will be gentlemen enough to come and find me in heaven and tell me you're sorry.
In fact, since his story about what she did that night has changed over the years. But here's what she told us. In twenty seven, she was at a local bar and in fact, the bartender confirmed Sissy and some other girls were there. Close the place way past midnight to the bartender. But Cissy said it was much earlier when she asked a friend for a ride home.
She drove me to my home and I went in and I went to bed. So you were in bed by when? That night. You remember leaving. Why would we have witnesses who say that you said a few years after the murder that you got away with it perfectly enough that never, ever came out of my mouth?
Never. Is it possible that it's blocked somehow?
I've got a very, very good memory.
You know, I don't want to be cruel when I say this, but if you do have a really good memory, you're probably the only addict on the face of the earth that does.
What is it going to take to stop the whispers? I don't know.
I don't care because I'm not involved. And in fact, that bloody palm print of the crime scene, not hers. No fingerprints either.
If I was down there, I'm sure they would want some kind of DNA on me. You know something?
After our interview with Cissy, we went looking for more of those girls now, women whom witnesses placed at the scene. One of them is Joanne Jackson, also at the bar that night. But like Cissy, she said she was tucked into bed hours before the murder.
I don't have any reason to be implicated in this whatsoever. You know, I had I went home, I talked to my mother. You know what time of night that was? Eleven o'clock.
And after that, you have no idea what you know.
But the things that can happen when such old stories, long buried in secrecy go public again, hard to believe.
Coming up, Dateline helps uncover something new when the whole story was told. The Dateline piece these. Witnesses finally decided, I know something that might be able to help out. By 2009, every effort to free Barry Beach from the state prison in Deer Lodge, Montana, and there were many had failed. You really think you're going to get out of here? Yes, sir. But the fight, the years the stress had all taken a toll on Barry's mom.
After Bobby testified at a failed clemency hearing, her health gave out and was simply a stress related heart attack like your body forcing her to fall apart.
Right. But I thought, well, God's promised this.
So there was something rather sad about her unshakable certainty in the face of the long parade of unkept promises. And the defense team at Centurion's seemed hardly more realistic than Bobby.
Didn't seem just like almost tilting at windmills at that point.
Hope springs eternal. What they did was throw a legal Hail Mary, a motion that somehow found its way to Montana Supreme Court. It asked for a new judge to hear a whole new appeal of Beach's conviction. Just give us a fair judge. That's all we're asking for.
So they asked and then they waited and the request was approved.
The Montana Supreme Court asked a judge with a reputation for toughness to consider the new evidence, and in August 2011, Barry walked into the courtroom to a chorus of applause.
By then, Dateline's report on the murder of Beazley had long since aired and hordes of supporters were waiting for him in the courtroom, along with Judge Wayne Phillips.
All right. Good morning, everyone. And another thing our Dateline report had done, turn up new witnesses.
When the whole story was told, the Dateline piece, these witnesses finally decided, you know, I know something that might be able to help out that long running rumor that the real killers of these were actually girls from her own high school class.
The judge would hear much more about this, about, for example, the alleged admissions of guilt by Sissy Atkinson.
I had no knowledge of it. I was not there.
This man testified that Sissy herself told him the story several times, told him about the group of jealous girls, how they hit him with a tire iron, rolled her body into a river. I know for a fact girls murdered Cambridge and I know he's not a girl.
And then there were two witnesses who came forward to say they heard the same story from Joanne Jackson.
She told us that she and a group of girls took another girl by the water. She said they dragged her, beat her, and things got out of hand and she died. Julian, why would they do this? And she says she was smart and she was going away to college.
But if there was a star witness among the many who appeared, it was Stephy Eagle Boy, just 10 years old, that summer night in June 1979 when she sat on a bluff overlooking the Poplar River and heard the sound that has ever since been her recurring nightmare. I could hear all these girls hollering and saying, get her and just said the girl was saying, don't, please.
Judge Phillips questioned the witness himself. And did you hear screaming?
Yes. What kind of scream like a horrible scream? High pitched, angry scream, hollering. It's sometimes Stevie Eagleby said she never came forward because of the other things she saw from her perch on the bluff that night, soon after the girl stopped screaming, she said a police car cruised up to the place where it happened and lingered briefly and left.
The police must have known and done nothing, she decided. And so she said not a word until she heard Berry's story. After all, the witnesses testified, it was a state turn and the state contended that all of them had waited too long to come forward and none was very credible, that Bury's confession was much more compelling.
It has been litigated by every court and the confession has always been upheld. So the states are one way, century and another.
We were cautiously optimistic and now Barry was even more confident than we were, he said. He said, guys, this judge is going to reverse his conviction.
He says, I just got a good feeling about this judge, but good feelings and desired results do not always agree. After all, the Montana attorney general believed, as did Sheriff Dean Mouallem, that none of the evidence exonerated bury or pointed to multiple attackers due to the lack of other injuries.
We were dealing with one perpetrator as opposed to a large group of people, he said.
She said Berry's confession and conviction settled the matter. You know the conviction is expunged.
That's a travesty because Barry Beach killed Kim Nese.
They vacate the judgment. It says that your belief in the veracity of that confession was false.
Now, what it says is that someone else killed Kimberly Neace and no one else killed Kimberly Nese. Her confidence is overwhelming. Good. This was the moment for that old cliche.
The jury was out. All right. Except in this case, it was a jury of one. The judge, E. Wayne Phillips, all up to him now. Coming up, the judge speaks, it was that linchpin that convinced me. A rare interview about this remarkable case when Dateline continues.
And Barry Beach left the Montana courtroom in the summer of 2011. The judge promised a ruling soon, which meant that Barry Beach went back to his prison cell and ticked off the days and weeks and months into the fall.
But you can't get your hopes up too much, can you? I mean, you've been whacked so often.
It is hard to keep your keep your belief up sometimes, but. He had been faithful and then the Vampire 2011, the decision, a 30 page ruling, it was just hours before the Thanksgiving holiday. Judge Wayne Phillips ruled that there was clear and convincing evidence a jury could find Barry Beach, an innocent man. For almost 30 years, Beach had been hearing the word no. And now, finally, this time it was yes.
Not freedom. Not yet, but at least this is a chance to clear his name for good. Judge Phillips granted a new trial.
I had just sat down to watch the news. I just started praising God, who is just. It was it was so emotional for me it doesn't get any sweeter than this, especially because of all the bitterness that Barry had experience with this case. But finally, here was a man, a judicial authority, who heard the evidence and agreed that if a future jury hears this evidence, they would find Mr. Bech innocent.
And here was something very unusual. After granting Barry Beach a new trial, Judge Wayne Phillips agreed to sit down with Dateline and explain his decision. I mean, how could you rule, as I did on the evidence I had and not also have to think about whether the guy should be just set free?
The judge stopped short of declaring Barry Beach innocent. After all, there was that old confession on file.
But once he heard Stephy Eagle Boy tell about hearing the murder happened, it was that linchpin that convinced me that a jury properly instructed would have said, I've got doubt, I have reasonable doubt about this man's guilt. All right.
And then the judge not only granted beach a new trial, but at least until that trial, much, much more is this court's determination that it can release Mr. Beach on his own recognizance.
As the state's attorneys vowed to appeal, very Beach was hustled out of the courthouse to a jail just down the street. The paperwork was done. And minutes later, for the first time in nearly three decades, he was freed.
Oh, more and safely in the arms of the woman who through it all has always been with him.
What was that like? Unreal, absolutely unreal. Citizens didn't even know me, stopped honking their horns, waving to congratulate.
And it's been like that ever since.
After his release, Barry lived in Billings, Montana, with restaurant owner Stella and Zig Ziegler. Zig is a former county commissioner who met Berry through prison ministries back in the 1980s.
As soon as he got out, he had a cell phone, he got a computer. He just, you know, he had really worked at someday I'm going to get out and I'll be ready.
He started his own maintenance company and parlayed that into a job as head of maintenance at a Billings hotel. Yeah, Barry's boss, Steve Wallick, he was overseeing three or four hundred thousand dollar remodeling projects.
He had a staff of five people. Plus, he was part of our senior management team.
After eight months with the Zeigler's, Barry received permission from the judge to live on his own. He fixed up the house and was working to buy it so his mom could eventually move in. He traveled all over Montana responding to requests to tell his story.
I bet you he did at least 50 speeches to leave a message for people that resonated with them or hope.
There's always hope he has a connection with people, no matter whether it was a politician or a banker or a native on the rez. He connected with all of them very well. One of those politicians, then Billings mayor and police officer Tom Handl, became a friend.
He was trying to do his best to fit into the community, to be one of a respectful citizen.
That after three decades behind bars, Barry Bech lived life. He learned to ski when horseback riding and fishing, enjoyed rodeos, made new friends. Life is like ice cream. Keith, there's 64 flavors of ice cream and you've got to try them all. All the while knowing that the state of Montana was appealing the judge's ruling and intended, if necessary, to put him on trial again for the murder. After all, he confessed to it more than 30 years earlier.
Justice for Kim.
This is not going to be served until the whole truth is discovered.
And the preparation for a new trial gives me more of an opportunity to discover that truth. You're a little worried about. No, my God didn't put me where I'm sitting here right now to let me down. But of course, no one can predict the future, no matter how we all may try. We always knew that this kind of sword was hanging over his head. It could happen any time. We talked about how many occasions he said, I know what's out there, but I down deep in our heart, we never thought the probability would finally come.
But it comes the future comes, like it or not. Coming up, a ruling from the court and some will be stunned. It was the last thing we ever anticipated happening. For Barry Beach, Billings, Montana, was far more than just home after his release from prison. It was some kind of heaven. By May 2013, it called the town and his house home for more than a year and a half, waiting to find out if the state would drop the case or retry him or possibly even send him back to prison.
And then May 14th. The decision came down.
The Montana Supreme Court ruled against him by a vote of four justices to three. They ruled that Judge Wayne Phillips gave too much credibility to all those new witnesses who came forward to tell their stories and not enough credibility to Barry's original confession all those years ago, which meant not that they were putting him on trial again. Oh, no. It meant they were sending Barry straight back to prison to resume his life sentence.
Now, Montana's attorney general declined Dateline's request for an interview, but issued a press release which read in part, Mr. Beach's allegations like substance. When closely scrutinized, Ricci's conviction is valid.
Therefore, like every other person convicted of murder, Beach is required to serve his prison sentence.
I was stunned. Centurion's mcclosky have been so confident that the court would rule in Barry's favor.
But this I mean, all of us who who are convinced of Barry's innocence, we were just it was a kick in the stomach.
The warrant was issued within hours. Barry insisted on walking to the sheriff's office to turn himself in. The Zeigler's went with him. He stopped and put his hands on both shoulders style of mine. And he said, I hope you know this means that I'm going to have to go back and serve the rest of my time. And I said, Barry, don't talk like I don't want to hear that very, very, very emotional day for us.
It's just like, Susan, when your reaction was swift and shocked and sad from the waitresses, it still is very heartbreaking because I've seen him work here and he's an active member of society from Barry's boss, Sparerib, long in prison.
No, absolutely not.
I would trust him with my hotel. I would trust him with my family. I would trust him with anything.
And of course, there's Barry's mother, Bobby, who waited decades to get her son back and now he was gone.
I was stunned for days afterwards. Just couldn't wrap my mind around it. That could be said to for Barry back in state prison, blue, perhaps for the rest of his life. What's it like to be you these days?
Sickening. It was the last thing we ever anticipated happening because I went out there and I did everything right.
You know, I talked to some people. They said I would run, but it just take life.
That wasn't my mindset. My word means everything to me. And I've looked you in the eyes before, and I told you. I did not kill Kaminis. That's my word, you have my promise and that same promise I gave the attorney general's office, my legal team and everybody else around me, that I would turn myself in. And as hard as it was to keep my word, my word is my bond. But the prayers of Barry Beach, his family and supporters were soon to be answered.
Montana's legislature passed a bill giving the governor the power to grant clemency to prisoners without approval from the parole board. The governor, who had previously expressed his support for releasing Barry, signed the bill into law and commuted Berry's life sentence.
And in November 2015, two and a half years after Bech was sent back to prison, Barry Bech walked out of the Montana State Prison for the last time with attorney Peter Camiel and Centurion's Jim McCloskey by his side.
And we came in this morning and Peter and I did to to talk to Barry, and we were the ones who told him that today was the day he was going home, he was going to be free. And his nightmare of three years ends today. Right now, Barry Wood is happy to talk to you and answer whatever questions you have. Are you feeling very bad right now? My my chest is little pounding, but and it's all actually very surreal.
It's it's one of those things that, you know, you don't fight 30 plus years to reach a moment like this. And then when it gets to the thirty one years disappears thanks to the governor, you know, for keeping his word. And I appreciate all those in the legislature and other political figures and citizens of the state of Montana who stood beside me and helped support this cause, you know, with their dedication and commitment. To justice, if you have anything to stay with Conway, our friend.
Absolutely. I knew it was going to be here someday. You know, the good lord in heaven is always assured me that I had reach this point. I never dreamed it was going to take this long. And let me say this. You can't keep fighting unless you believe you have to believe in it. And you have to hope you have to pray and know that those prayers are being heard and that someday, if you could just hang on, it'll come to this.
Since that happy day back in twenty fifteen, Berry has lived once again in that little house he owns.
He's still running his own handyman business and doing well.
He says Barry's mom, Bobby, is still with us as our zigi and Stella. And every day Berry Beach goes to work with a smile on his face but makes up for lost time.
That's all for now.
I'm Lester Holt. Thanks for joining us.