BILLINGS, Montana — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock on Friday promised "careful consideration" of a clemency request from a man who's spent three decades in prison for the 1979 murder of a high school classmate.
Bullock previously suggested he would look favorably on the request from Barry Beach, 53, who has steadfastly denied beating to death 17-year-old Kim Nees in Poplar.
The Democratic governor was returning Friday from a trip to South Korea and expected to review the request "fairly soon," spokesman Tim Crowe said.
Beach was sentenced to 100 years in prison in 1984. His long campaign for freedom has drawn support from hundreds of supporters and elected officials including Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, former Gov. Brian Schweitzer and former Republican U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns.
Bullock asked the state parole board last year to consider whether Beach had served enough time in prison, noting he was a 17-year-old juvenile at the time of the crime and his good behavior in prison.
A new law — inspired in large part by Beach's case — gives the governor the final decision in clemency requests instead of the parole board.
The law gives Bullock complete discretion in the case, meaning he could deny the request, grant it in full, attach conditions such parole or take other action, said Beach attorney Peter Camiel.
"The law doesn't restrict him," Camiel said. "It's completely in the governor's hands."
The board forwarded Beach's clemency to Bullock Thursday, after determining it was substantively similar to an application previously denied. Beach has five times requested clemency.
Beach has said his confession to Nees' murder to authorities in Louisiana in 1983 was coerced.
Beach was released for 18 months beginning in 2011 for a new trial. The state Supreme Court blocked that trial, sending him back to prison.