The Visit Of Barry Beach
Released After Nearly 30 Years In Prison, He Flies To Glasgow To Thank Supporters
BY ANGEE SORENSEN THE COURIER STAFF
Published: Thursday, January 26th, 2012
The dinner last Saturday at Angie's Cafe with Barry Beach and his supporters in the Glasgow area came about with the help of Angela Austin after she saw a “Dateline NBC” episode in 2008. She was convinced from the episode that Beach was innocent and set out to find out all that she could.
Beach was serving a 100-year sentence with no parole for the 1979 murder of 17-year-old Kim Nees in Poplar. Although he had confessed to the crime, he later recanted the confession and spent nearly three decades protesting his innocence.
Austin went onto Myspace, found a fan page for Beach and commented about something she had heard (a man had told her that he knew Beach was innocent because he was there that night). One of Beach’s supporters contacted her and asked her questions. She was so excited because Beach knew she existed. Soon after, Centurion Ministries, an organization that works to release innocent people from prison, contacted her and she was writing Beach personally.
She held a rally at the Northeast Montana Fair in 2008 for Beach and the Montana Innocence Project. Beach said that when he was told of the rally he promised himself and God that if he ever got the chance he would come to Glasgow and thank Austin and all of Glasgow for their support and faith. When a judge granted Beach a new trial and he was released from prison in December, he made good on the promise.
Beach flew into Glasgow on Saturday and kicked off the weekend with a lunch at the Austins' home with supporters, including a man from South Africa. That was followed by the dinner at Angie's Cafe Saturday night. There were 68 tickets sold and it was a full house. Angie Soper closed the restaurant for the safety of Beach and his supporters.
There was so much electricity in the air. Everyone was excited to meet him and to pray with him and for him. Beach circulated the room all night, only stopping long enough to eat. He even gave an interview to the Fort Peck Journal while eating.
He said he is adamant about getting the story out so there is justice for Kim Nees. His attorney, Terry Toavs, was there to support him. Beach thanked him for all his hard work and his reply was, “There is a lot more to do.” Pastor Willis Cook stood and said a prayer for Beach and everyone there.
Then Beach spoke. He began by saying thank you to Soper for allowing the dinner to be held in her cafe and to all of the helpers who helped prepare the meal. He thanked everyone for coming and supporting him.
He said, “It's you people and the heart of you that is the true example of compassion. That people believe in right and wrong and want to change things when they can. The compassion in society amazes me every day. You are here as a part of God's will and there are more things to come. God is going to take everything we do and do something with it. No matter what you do in life, listen. Stand up for what is right and with your help things can change. Life is as good as I always thought it would be. I have registered to get a business license for my handyman business. I worked in building and maintenance for 20 years and wanted to put it to use. I don't have blinders on to other opportunities but this is what I know.
“My life was chosen by God at birth. At the age of 7, I gave my life to God and was baptized at the age of 9. But in my life I couldn't get away from the whiskey and pills. When I was arrested I didn't turn to God but I began a journey. The first prison I was in was an all-black prison except for four white men. One day an inmate by the name of “Hobo” came up to me and said, 'I don't know why but I'm supposed to give this to you,’ and handed me a Bible. That was my saving grace.
“I remember in 1983 I had spent about two months in solitary and hadn't been able to watch television and one of the jailers asked if I wanted to watch for a while and I said sure. When we walked into the room Billy Graham was coming on and someone got up to turn it and I said, 'No, you get to watch it all the time. This is my turn and we are watching this.' I was taken back to my cell before the altar call but it didn't matter. When I got back to my cell I hit my knees and gave my life to God all over again. I had a vision and started a spiritual journey that lasted 29 years. I have not just done time for 29 years, but followed God's calling, and lived the best life God has opened for me to live.”
In the late 1980s Beach’s story was published in a book called "Faith, Hope and Room for One More." Chapter 13 of that book is about him. The book can be purchased by donation to the Galilean Children's Home, P.O. Box 880, Liberty, KY 42539. He was one of the founding members of the VVA (Vietnam Veterans of America) Chapter 669. For over 25 years he has been involved with the organization and its events.
In 1991 he was on TV for the first time, as one of the four Native American inmates who spoke before the Montana/Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council with Montana Gov. Stan Stevens present. KXLF out of Butte showed a segment of him speaking about the needs of Native people in prison. In 1996 he was officially recognized as a Native American artist when two of his hand carved Native American flutes were displayed at a booth during the Summer Olympics in Atlanta Ga. In 2001 he and several other Native American inmates drafted and submitted a bill before the Montana House of Representatives to have a Native American liaison between inmates and the Montana Department of Corrections. That bill passed, thanks to Carol Juneau. He has helped bring the Sacred Pipe and Sacred Sweat Lodge into four different prisons, working with prison administrations and Native medicine men to help Native brothers have ceremonies.
He has earned over 60 certificates of achievement. They are for education, self-help groups, athletics, journalism and more. These include courses from two colleges. He facilitated self-help groups and even created youth awareness programs in two prisons. He has been active in the prison ministry for 27 years.
Beach said he has been used by God to help four other innocent people walk out of prison. He said it took a lot of fasting, prayer and a belief that God is God no matter how miserable his own life seemed to be.
“Live each day looking for God around you, and he will use you,” he said.
Beach then opened the mic to questions and comments. Pastor Cook made the statement that Beach's mother is an amazing woman who never gave up hope. Jordan Koski said he had been the topic of conversation at her Tropical Rays salon for a while and it has all been positive. Andrea Gardner asked what else could be done to support him.
Beach answered, “That is a multiple answer. First of all, pray! The power of voice is amazing. The senators and those at the attorney general's office are elected officials. You have the right to voice your opinion to them. Ask them to do what is right; write letters. Second of all, turn over all information you have or you hear. There is a tip line set up that you can call. Let's get justice for Kim Nees. Continue to support me, network and support each other.”
There is going to be a “Dateline” followup program. He and show correspondent Keith Morrison have already sat down and had an eight-hour interview, in which he said they cried together multiple times. It will be on the air in March or April.
When asked when the next hearing will be, he stated he has no idea at this point. They are waiting on the initial brief from the Montana Supreme Court and will then file for a fast and speedy trial, but they want the chance to sit down with all the witnesses and that takes time.
He said that the mindset gets hard as time passes. You lose opportunities in life, family members, it all wears on you. He was transferred eight times in four states and nine prisons, but he said he was never in doubt that God was using his life. He woke up every day expecting a miracle. He would start looking for answers. Who hadn't he contacted?
He was turned down twice by Centurion Ministries, but when he was in a Tennessee prison one of the prison guards gave him a book by C. Ronald Huff. He wrote to Huff and told him his story. Huff gave Beach a written recommendation to “Dateline” and Centurion Ministries and convinced him to try again.
In 2006 Beach sat down for an interview with a reporter, Jessie McQuillian, and she asked if he could do anything, what would it be? Beach said that he had always dreamed for a program in Montana to help people such as himself. Out of that came the Montana Innocence Project and McQuillian is the executive director.
Without a second thought Beach said, “It is because of the courage of the witnesses coming forward that made me free. And this is truly a chance for justice for Kim Nees. There is a different game plan, a different goal. We aren't standing on the negative side of life, we stand united for the ultimate goal. Justice not just innocence. The years I spent in jail wouldn't be complete without justice. Yes, I am fighting for my innocence but at the same time we are fighting for Kim Nees. Witness testimony wasn't 'Barry Beach is innocent,' even though that’s what it leads to. Their testimony was somebody they heard or was told - somebody else did it. Their testimony is about justice for Kim Nees. God gave me what I asked for.”
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