Dateline   |  August 02, 2013

'Return to Poplar River' Part 2

Barry Beach finds a key ally in the fight to clear his name

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> life in prison can do terrible things to a man, suck 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 45, had spent more than half his life in 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 100 years, they gave me 100 years to prove i didn't commit the crime that put me behind 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. weren't exactly a choir boy , were you?

>> no, sir. i drove fast cars . i liked rock and roll .

>> and you liked to party.

>> every chance i got to be honest with you.

>> and what really happened he said on the day of the murder in june, 1979 was this. he was drinking and smoking dope and swimming in the poplar river outside town. by the time he walked the mile back home, he said.

>> i actually went straight to my bedroom, went to sleep.

>> what time was this.

>> somewhere between 5:00 and 6:00 in the evening.

>> when kim nees was murdered, he said he was fast asleep. but even though his sister swore 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 kim nees.

>> and that's when the story enters the twilight zone . barry beach says he believed he was about to be released from prison, the 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 seemed to think he had committed the three unsolved louisiana murders. the murders they were trying so very hard to solve.

>> next thing i know, they started showing me pictures of dead bodies and told me remember doing this, and i would say -- i was telling them i didn't do it, i didn't kill anyone.

>> but as the day wore on and his anxiety, fatigue, confusion grew, the door opened, and in walked commander alfred calhoun.

>> he promised me that he would personally see me fry in the louisiana electric chair .

>> what were you feeling in the middle of all this?

>> i was scared to death, keith, but i knew he would execute me if given the chance.

>> then said barry the talk turned to the murder in montana , the murder of kim nees.

>> well, it started off that they asked me to speculate how it happened, then i was asked to give a hypothetical story using myself as the perpetrator.

>> then he said he heard the detectives tell him if he 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 of it.

>> barry , come on. i really don't think i'm going to tell a police officer i killed a girl if i didn't kill her. why would you do it?

>> i was a 20-year-old kid, 2300 miles away from my real home. they scared me so bad, i would have said anything to get away from them, 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.

>> we get 11, 1200 letters a year from people asking for our help.

>> this is reverend jim mcklaas key, founder of a group called sen turian ministries. and running with a small staff of six people, paid only through donations, compiled quite a record. over 33 years, the group freed from prison or death row 51 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 centurian would commit to his case, the investigators had to check out that confession. there's a signed confession. you ask anybody around the country, of course he did it.

>> there have been over 200 men exonerated by dna from sexual assault or murder, convicted, imprisoned, later freed and exonerated. 25% of those men falsely confessed to that crime when arrested under interrogation.

>> but they found in the case of barry beach , the chance for dna testing had been lost because 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 barry . 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? for one thing, barry told the interrogators that kim tried to get away from him by scrambling out the driver's side of the truck. evidence showed she had actually come out the passenger side door, right where the still unidentified bloody palm print was found.

>> it is not barry beach 's palm print, it is not kim nees' palm print. after she was attacked inside the vehicle, her killers pulled her out, deposit her on the ground, and one of them closed 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. they wondered how could beach wipe off his prints and leave more than two dozen others all over the inside of the truck undisturbed. but a few such oddities didn't match.

>> once his confession, it became immaterial and irrelevant to the truth of the matter.

>> how could that happen? centurian got a hold of a former sheriff's department employee that fielded a dozen calls between them and the detectives during the interrogation. does that mean the confession was coached or dictated somehow? evidence, well, some of the calls turned out were transcribed. at one point the sheriff tells the detective she was wearing a plaid shirt, kim was, when she was murdered. sure enough, in 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, said all barry 's statements were voluntary and they didn't put any words in his mouth.

>> you never got information from dean moum you were able to pass on in the course of the conversation he confessed.

>> not one bit. absolutely not. that's totally false statement and allegation.

>> but a little digging, they uncovered what is believed to be disturbing information about the louisiana detectives. remember the three louisiana murders the detectives questioned 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.

>> you have detectives with a track record of claiming they've got detailed confessions with people with information 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.

>> if barry beach did not kill kim nees, then who did? that's what makes this case a little different because centurian's team not only believes barry beach is innocent, but that it knows who is guilty.