HELENA (AP) — Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday it would be inappropriate for him to offer an opinion on Barry Beach's request to be set free before the process plays out.
Beach's attorney sent an application for commutation, or a reduction of sentence, to members of the state Board of Pardons and Parole on Wednesday. Beach has served nearly 30 years of a 100-year sentence after being convicted in 1983 of the 1979 murder of Kimberly Nees in Poplar.
Beach was released in 2011 for 18 months after a Lewistown judge ruled there was enough new evidence in the case to justify a new trial. That decision was appealed by Bullock — the attorney general — and reversed by the state Supreme Court. Beach went back to jail to finish a term that his supporters call a life sentence.
The application includes 200 letters of support, including letters from Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and former Republican U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns. Among other local state leaders.
But Bullock said he will wait to see what the parole board recommends before he offers any opinion.
"I don't think it is appropriate for me to jump in the middle of that process. It may end up landing on my desk," Bullock said. "When this is an executive branch board, it is not appropriate for me to express my personal opinion."
Bullock said the issue will only come to him if the parole board sides with Beach's request. The parole board in 2007 denied Beach a recommendation for a gubernatorial pardon, a question that was more focused on innocence.
In this application, Bullock's attorneys and supporters argue Beach has served enough time and showed with the 18 months he was allowed free that he is a good citizen.
"There are two questions. Innocence or guilt, and is the time spent in prison sufficient?" Bullock said. "That is the question, I assume, I have not seen any paperwork here, I assume that is the question that is going to be before the board."