Retry Barry Beach

Barry Beach, who was sentenced to 100 years in 1984, released pending a retrial in 2011, then returned to prison last week

Barry Beach, who was sentenced to 100 years in 1984, released pending a retrial in 2011, then returned to prison last week

In 1983, Barry Beach was arrested in Louisiana for contributing to the delinquency of a minor—his stepsister, whom Beach took in after she ran away. Detectives interrogated him for three days, until he confessed to the 1979 murder of high school classmate Kim Nees and to the murder of Louisiana woman Kathy Wharton. A judge threw out the Wharton confession when it was contradicted by physical evidence, and the same detectives subsequently extracted false confessions to the Wharton murder from two other men. On the strength of his confession to the Nees murder, which Beach denies, a Montana judge found him guilty of murder and sentenced him to 100 years. In 2011, after nearly 30 years in prison, another judge granted him a retrial, and Beach was released. Two weeks ago, the Montana Supreme Court overruled that judge and returned Beach to prison without his trial, after he had been free for a year and a half. You can read about the whole sordid affair in my Indy column, which is what you get instead of a blog today. Come on, summer hours.

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  1. Lets say that we form a tribe in the woods and decide to plant crops so we don’t have to hunt berries and deer anymore. Lets say that settlement requires some system to keep members of our tribe from fucking things up for the other members. Lets say we codify the rules of that system and make them known publicly. We did as such in 450 BC when the Roman magistrates created the twelve table. And lets say we thrive under this rule of law all the way to contemporary times.

    One necessary component of that system is that dispassionate decisions are made. The decision of the Montana Supreme Court was not based on being assholes, it was based on their interpretation of the law. Mr. Beach sure got yanked around, but it is not the job of any appellate court to take into consideration whether someone is getting yanked around. Their job is only to interpret whether the law was misapplied by the lower court.

    But lets say you only have a high-level, aspirational idea of how law functions in reality. Then you might agitate public opinion by bringing attention to the fact that someone got yanked around, in the hope that it would influence the interpretation of the court, contrary to the entire design of rule-of-law–which you understand. And I suppose if you were successful in doing so for a day you could celebrate justice being done, and then the next day watch a number of other people whose opinions you disagree with, seek to pressure the judiciary in the same fashion.

    If you want to sideline judge the first court which may have accepted a false confession, go for it. That, however, is not even related to the point of law the Supreme Court was asked to settle. The only way the judgment handed down by the Supreme Court relates to the first court’s decisions is that they were set in motion by the same events sometime in the 70s. In that vein, your op-ed is parallel to the Supreme Court decision. They are both about the process, not the actual facts of the original case.

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