The Killing at Poplar River   View more episodes

Aired at 02:00 PM on Saturday, Sep 18, 2010 (9/18/2010)      View all transcripts from this day


00:00:02>> I said on tape that I killed kim nees.
00:00:03>> Denials.
00:00:05>> I was not there.
00:00:06>> But the whispers would not stop.
00:00:10Of girls, complicity, murder.
00:00:13>> One of them girls came running around the pickup with a crescent wrench.
00:00:16>> Who killed kimberly?
00:00:21The answer seemed simple, but was it?
00:00:28>> She looked at me and said, we got away with the perfect crime.
00:00:35>>> Thanks for joining us.
00:00:35I'm ann curry.
00:00:36Our story takes us to a small town in big sky country, and to a summer when life seemed full of possibilities.
00:00:41But fate changed everything for a young woman and a young man and the people left behind.
00:00:51Here's keith morrison.
00:00:53>> Up in the northeast corner of montana, hours and hours by car from the big, rustic ranches of the famously wealthy, is the winding missouri of lewis & clark and a small for gotten town, which once carried the stain of an unenveeable reputation.
00:01:23Poplar is the name of the place.
00:01:24A generation ago so soaked in a violent, bloody death.
00:01:25It was known as stab city.
00:01:25This is the story of the most vexing, then and now, of any of them.
00:01:27And how the mystery may have been solved.
00:01:37here is where it happened.
00:01:38Summer was here.
00:01:39School was out.
00:01:39The party was on.
00:01:40Kim nees, 17, school valedictorian, national honors graduate celebrating.
00:01:52She was finally about to escape this town for college.
00:01:53>> You know, I was a little sister.
00:01:54She was a big sister.
00:01:55I was a pain in the butt.
00:01:55>> Back then, kim's sister pam was just 14.
00:01:57>> She always had to take me with her, and that was the way it is, you know?
00:02:05>> But around midnight, june 15th, 1979, KIM WAS RESTLESS, Wanted out.
00:02:07And this time, without her little sister.
00:02:13Didn't say what she was doing.
00:02:14Didn't say where she was going.
00:02:14>> And she took off?
00:02:15>> Uh-huh.
00:02:17>> The scene is burned into her memory.
00:02:19As is the face of her father in the morning, less than eight hours later.
00:02:24>> He carried me upstairs, sat me next to my mom, and said something really terrible has happened.
00:02:34He said, kimmy is dead.
00:02:34I just -- >> did you go numb?
00:02:35>> It still sometimes isn't there, you know?
00:02:37It's like -- I can't believe this.
00:02:41, at a well-known party spot just half a mile outside town, police had found the family pickup, abandoned.
00:02:48Officers followed the trail of blood from the truck down a rutted dirt track 250 feet or so to the poplar river.
00:02:55And there they found the battered body of kim nees.
00:03:03>> The term I have used is overkill.
00:03:08>> Dean mahlum was the undersheriff and later the county sheriff in charge of the murder investigation.
00:03:17>> There were 20 or 21 blows received to kim's skull, which any could have caused her death.
00:03:19>> There was rage involved?
00:03:20>> It was a high, high level of rage.
00:03:21Someone was very angry.
00:03:22>> We drove an old truck, same year, different color, to the last place kim was seen.
00:03:2712:45 A.m., a gas station.
00:03:31Then to the crime scene itself, where that night there was no shortage of evidence.
00:03:36Blood everywhere inside the cab of the pickup.
00:03:39More than two dozen.
00:03:42Footprints in and around the trail where kim's body was dragged to the river.
00:03:45And on the truck near the passenger door, a palm print in what appeared to be blood.
00:04:01The fbi prepared a report.
00:04:01The bloody palm print, it said, would have to be left by the unsub.
00:04:03That's fbi lingo.
00:04:04The unknown subject.
00:04:04The murderer.
00:04:05>> We worked very, very, very, very hard at determining who that was.
00:04:13And obviously we had a very vested interest in talking to that person.
00:04:18>> In addition, a sweep through town had turned up what the fbi called an extremely bloody towel on a fence in town, less than a mile from the crime scene.
00:04:27A lab report linked two hairs on the towel to kim nees.
00:04:30And said the hair evidence suggests a possible connection between the towel and the was there blood on the towel was it ever tested?
00:04:46>> I believe it was sent to the montana state lab.
00:04:47It was not kim's blood that was on the towel.
00:04:48>> Did the blood on the towel belong to her killer?
00:04:49Kim's cash and credit cards were still in her purse.
00:04:51This was not a robbery.
00:04:52Nor was there any indication of sexual assault.
00:05:02So the lack of apparent motive in the murder of a pretty 17-year-old girl that many people to wonder if perhaps the standard crime scene scenarios did not apply.
00:05:08In fact, rumors were already around town.
00:05:09This was not a man who committed the murder or a woman even.
00:05:12But a group of girls.
00:05:13Kim's contemporaries.
00:05:14Their supposed motive?
00:05:24Kim was attractive.
00:05:24She was successful.
00:05:25She was class valedictorian.
00:05:26Boys loved her.
00:05:26And she was about to leave poplar behind for good.
00:05:31There were stories around town that this may have been some kind of killing involving some local girls.
00:05:37>> That was one of the, again if you will, the theories that folks around town had, that there may have been three or four of kim's peers that were involved with her death.
00:05:49>> Bobby clincher heard the talk.
00:05:51She lived down the block from the nees family.
00:05:52What did you hear?
00:05:52>> Her grandfather had told me, well, they're looking at the girls.
00:05:56All indications are that it was girls.
00:05:59>> Lists of suspects' names appeared in fbi documents.
00:06:01Those girls.
00:06:06Kim's boyfriend also.
00:06:08Other teens.
00:06:09But all of them were cleared when their prints didn't match those found at the scene.
00:06:11>> I felt bad for her parents.
00:06:12>> Bobby clincher's connection to the nees family was more than neighborly.
00:06:17Her son, barry, had even dated kim's sister pam.
00:06:24Like many kids in town, barry had been listed as a suspect in the documents too.
00:06:29As the mystery deepened, mothers and fathers questioned their own children, wondering if there was some code of silence that could crack.
00:06:38Did you question him harshly about it?
00:06:39>> Uh-huh.
00:06:40He said repeatedly he didn't know anything about it.
00:06:49The only thing he knew what he had heard, what he had been told.
00:06:56>> And as the investigation stalled, the nees family took it upon themselves to try to solve kim's killing themselves.
00:06:59Writing heart rending letters to the local paper.
00:07:00Your dad tried very hard and your family, your whole family, tried very hard to get people to help?
00:07:03>> Yeah.
00:07:04They put up a $10,000 reward out.
00:07:07>> Asking, begging for help.
00:07:08>> Uh-huh.
00:07:08>> How did the community respond?
00:07:09>> They didn't.
00:07:09>> At all?
00:07:10>> Not really.
00:07:10Seemed like they didn't care.
00:07:12>> Summer passed, and fall and winter.
00:07:16More names surfaced, more fingerprints were compared, more dead ends.
00:07:19But -- did you ever kind of give up on the idea you would figure it out?
00:07:25>> No, never.
00:07:25There was no doubt in my mind that we would solve this homicide.
00:07:28>> And the sheriff's patience would be rewarded.
00:07:32But the answers he was sure he would get would wait for years.
00:07:39And come from a place he would never have suspected.
00:07:44>>> Coming up, a suspect emerges from out of the past.
00:07:48You've heard a lot of confessions over the years?
00:07:49>> Oh, yes.
00:07:50>> And when you heard that one, had the ring of authenticity?
00:07:53>> Oh, absolutely.
00:07:54>> When "the killing at poplar river" continues.
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00:11:12>>> The killing of poplar high's valedictorian, kim nees, shook this troubled town to its foundations.
00:11:17But the solution to the mystery proved to be as elusive as gossip on the montana wind.
00:11:25By 1983, kim should have been finishing college.
00:11:28Instead, after almost four years, investigators seemed no closer to finding the killer or killers who'd beaten her to death and dumped her body in the poplar river.
00:11:39The nees family had long since left town, shattered.
00:11:43>> My mom and I never really talked about it.
00:11:44We went our separate ways.
00:11:46>> Almost like you lost your mother though too.
00:11:52>> My dad, he always had to have it together because one of us would not be having it together.
00:11:54You know?
00:11:54>> Years of trying to match the fingerprints at the murder scene and the telltale bloody palm print had come to nothing.
00:12:01Suspects, classmates, neighbors, even that group of girls long whispered about had been investigated and apparently cleared.
00:12:09But a break in the case was about to come.
00:12:13And from across the country, in of all places, the town of monroe, louisiana.
00:12:21It was january 1983.
00:12:23Sheriff dean mahlum picked up the phone one day and found himself talking to a detective from way down south.
00:12:29>> He asked if I was aware of an individual by the name of barry beach.
00:12:36 beach was or had ever been a suspect in a homicide in roosevelt county.
00:12:43>> Barry beach.
00:12:44He was the son of that neighbor who had been so upset about the murder.
00:12:46The boy, now a man of nearly 21, who once dated the victim's sister, pam.
00:12:51Beach had not quite found a purpose in life by then.
00:12:53He had gone to louisiana to be with his father and stepmother.
00:12:57He and they didn't see eye to eye.
00:13:01In fact, his stepmother had beach arrested on a minor charge.
00:13:06And then, told police the boy was once a suspect in an unsolved montana murder.
00:13:09Well, it just so happened investigators in louisiana were scratching their heads over the murders of three women here.
00:13:16In monroe.
00:13:20Could beach be their killer?
00:13:22They decided to call the montana sheriff and ask some questions about beach.
00:13:26And the sheriff told them about a polygraph beach had been given a couple of years back in montana.
00:13:32>> Barry would never respond, i didn't kill her.
00:13:33I did not do that.
00:13:35It was things like, I don't think I could have done that.
00:13:37I don't remember.
00:13:39Those types of things.
00:13:40>> You had a hunch?
00:13:45>> I would say something that was a lot stronger than a hunch.
00:13:50>> My feeling from talking to the sheriff mahlum was the fact that, you know, he was a viable suspect.
00:13:52>> Jay via was that louisiana detective calling the montana sheriff.
00:13:54He soon discovered that beach had met one of the louisiana victims.
00:14:01So now he wondered.
00:14:03Could beach be a serial killer?
00:14:07What made you think that he was the kind of guy who could be your prime suspect?
00:14:13>> The fact that he was a suspect in a murder already.
00:14:14The fact that he did have contact with one of our victims.
00:14:16We felt an obligation to look at him seriously as a person of interest in those investigations.
00:14:28>> So the detective conducted a series of interviews with barry beach over two days, here at the ouachita parrish department.
00:14:34To determine barry's truthfulness, especially about the killing of kim nees.
00:14:45>> Well, we get up to the point of her murder, you know, we asked him, you know, were you responsible?
00:14:48And during this part of the interview, he kept saying, i don't remember if I was or not.
00:14:50It was not a, quote, denial.
00:14:51It was, you know, I just don't remember.
00:14:53>> Soon the detective was joined in his effort with detective calhoun.
00:15:02His work by alfred calhoun known in these parts with murder investigations as something of a closer.
00:15:05>> Alfred stepped out of the interview room and said he wants to talk to you.
00:15:08So when I walked in the room, barry was crying and he admitted to killing kimberly nees.
00:15:12>> The tape recorder was turned on.
00:15:14And there it was, barry beach confessed to killing kim nees.
00:15:21You've heard a lot of confessions over the years.
00:15:24>> Oh, yes.
00:15:27>> And when you heard that one, rang of authenticity?
00:15:32>> Oh, absolutely.
00:15:33>> When he heard the news, the sheriff in montana was convinced they had the true killer.
00:15:35>> Absolutely.
00:15:36No question in my mind.
00:15:36>> On the basis of your own expertise?
00:15:37>> This confession is good.
00:15:38It's solid.
00:15:38He did it.
00:15:40>> And why were authorities so sure beach killed kim nees?
00:15:43It was his confession.
00:15:44The story he told.
00:15:48The afternoon before she was killed, beach said he came down to the river for a beer to swim.
00:15:52And when it was time to go, his car wouldn't go.
00:15:59He lost his temper, got furious.
00:16:00Walked home, went to bed.
00:16:04Ah, but then beach said he woke up around midnight, went for a walk.
00:16:09Kim picked him up in the car, went for a drive, smoked a joint.
00:16:14And when she rebuffed his sexual advances, he became enraged.
00:16:15He beat her.
00:16:16Found a tire iron.
00:16:18A possible second weapon police said they hadn't told anybody about, and finished her off.
00:16:25And then beach said he put kim's body in a plastic garbage bag.
00:16:33Dragged it down here to the river, and threw it in.
00:16:37Threw the murder weapons in there too.
00:16:46Took his bloody clothes to a railway car and burned them.
00:16:49And then, he went home.
00:16:49Detectives thought it was consistent with the evidence.
00:16:51They all felt finally it made sense.
00:16:52The mystery was solved.
00:16:52All the rumors about other suspects including that group of girls, long whispered of in connection to the crime, were apparently wrong.
00:17:02Barry beach said that he alone killed kim nees.
00:17:05And after?
00:17:06Authorities in louisiana allowed him to call and break the news to his mother back in montana.
00:17:09>> He said, mom, I confessed to it.
00:17:13And I said, barry, why did you confess to something you didn't do?
00:17:18And he said, well, they're going to come back to montana.
00:17:21And they're going to help me prove that I didn't do this.
00:17:23>> Cops from louisiana going to help her son prove he didn't commit the montana murder he just confessed to?
00:17:30That sounded strange.
00:17:32What did you think when you heard that?
00:17:34>> I was like, whoa.
00:17:36What's going on here?
00:17:38>> But when word reached the victim's sister, pam, barry's one-time girlfriend, she was aghast.
00:17:44What was your sense of it?
00:17:46Of the possibility that he had done this?
00:17:52>> I just couldn't believe that he would do that or would even be around her.
00:17:58>> But despite pam's doubts, barry beach was about to go on trial and make astonishing claims about what really led to that confession.
00:18:04>>> Coming up, the twisted logic that beach says prompted his confession.
00:18:11>> I would have said anything to get away from them.
00:18:13>> When "the killing of poplar river" continues.
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00:20:49>>> By the fall of 1983, barry beach was back in montana from louisiana to stand trial for the murder of kim nees.
00:20:56A trial many thought to be a mere formality.
00:20:58All those whispers, the rumors about girls from the town of poplar being the real killers, must have been wrong.
00:21:04After all, barry beach had confessed to her murder.
00:21:08What more was there to say?
00:21:18Well, actually, quite a bit.
00:21:19Weren't exactly acquirable, were you?
00:21:21>> No, sir.
00:21:22>> This is barry beach.
00:21:23>> I was your very typical small town teen.
00:21:24I drove fast cars.
00:21:24I liked rock 'n' roll.
00:21:25I drank.
00:21:31>> To excess occasionally?
00:21:32>> To excess quite often.
00:21:33>> Smoked a joint once in a while?
00:21:34>> Yes, sir.
00:21:34I used dope.
00:21:34>> And you liked to party?
00:21:35>> Every chance I got, to be honest with you.
00:21:40>> In fact, by the time he was 18, BEACH HAD TWO DUIs, AND HAD Spent close to a month in jail for traffic offenses.
00:21:52And on the day of the murder, in june 1979, barry says, he was doing the usual.
00:21:58Drinking too much, smoking some dope, swimming in the poplar riveoutse town, when his car broke down.
00:22:01>> I was mad at my car.
00:22:02I actually ended up hitting my vehicle several times in the door.
00:22:05I banged my fist on the windshield.
00:22:08Luckily I didn't crack it or break it or shatter it.
00:22:11Just -- >> you lost it?
00:22:12>> Yeah.
00:22:13You know?
00:22:15I -- I vented my anger.
00:22:16I was angry and I vented it.
00:22:20>> Sometimes when you do that, you wind up hurting yourself.
00:22:22Did you?
00:22:22>> Yes, sir.
00:22:23I ended up cracking one of my knuckles on a piece of trim on the side of the door.
00:22:29>> Forced then to walk the mile back into town, beach says, with a good buzz on and no one at home when he finally arrived.
00:22:39His bed looked awfully inviting.
00:22:40>> I actually just went straight upstairs to my bedroom and went right to sleep.
00:22:47>> What time was it?
00:22:48>> That was somewhere between 5:00 and 6:00 in the evening.
00:22:49>> Barry beach says that's where he stayed the night kim nees was killed.
00:22:52In bed.
00:22:52What about that detailed confession he gave to detectives in louisiana?
00:22:56He says something quite different there.
00:22:59Well, that's where it gets interesting.
00:23:02Beach doesn't deny that he confessed to the killing.
00:23:04Far from it.
00:23:06You said you killed that girl up in montana.
00:23:11>> Yes, sir.
00:23:12I said that -- on tape, that i killed kim nees.
00:23:17>> And that's when the story enters the twilight zone.
00:23:22Barry beach says he believed he was about to be released from prison, those minor charges called in by his stepmother about to be dropped, when suddenly he found himself in an interrogation room answering questions about murder.
00:23:37Those detectives seemed to think he had committed those three, unsolved louisiana murders, the murders they were trying so very hard to solve.
00:23:52>> Next thing I know, they got very accuse torrey and started not only telling me that I knew these girls, but that I had killed them.
00:24:06And then they had started showing me pictures of dead bodies.
00:24:08And told me -- remember doing this?
00:24:09They showed me a picture of a cream-colored chevy where the girl had been shot through the window.
00:24:16And there was blood splattered all over the window and the windshield and shot her through the driver's side window.
00:24:19I was telling them I didn't do it.
00:24:20I didn't kill anyone.
00:24:21I've never killed anyone.
00:24:22I don't know what you're talking about.
00:24:23And this went on for a good, long period of time, with them showing me different dead bodies and different crime scenes.
00:24:30>> And as the day wore on, beach claims, it was commander alfred calhoun who ratcheted up the pressure.
00:24:40>> He promised me that he would personally see me fry in the louisiana electric chair.
00:24:43And then he spent half an hour to an hour explaining to me the different effects of a person when they are elrocutedelectrocuted, all the way from their hair being singed and catching on fire, how it affects your heart when the elricity hits your body.
00:25:09>> Kind of thing that sticks in a person's mind.
00:25:11>> It was intense.
00:25:11He was extremely angry.
00:25:12Yelling at me.
00:25:12>> What were you feeling in the middle of all of this?
00:25:13>> I was scared to death, keith, but I knew that he would convict me.
00:25:15He would execute me, if given the chance.
00:25:17>> Then, says beach, the talk turned to that murder in montana.
00:25:20The murder of kim nees.
00:25:22You were asked to speculate about how she may have been killed.
00:25:28>> Yes, sir.
00:25:29Well, it started off that they asked me to speculate how it happened.
00:25:31And then I was asked to give a hypothetical story using myself as the perpetrator.
00:25:36>> By that time, says beach, he was terrified.
00:25:37Would say just about anything to get out of there.
00:25:40He says he remembers his interrogator telling him he could work to prove his innocence later back in montana if he just confessed now.
00:25:54And so, those memories rather fuzzy, that, he says, is what he did.
00:25:59>> Do you remember any of what you said?
00:26:02>> I don't deny that the confession took place.
00:26:03I don't remember all the details.
00:26:04>> But, barry, come on.
00:26:05I really don't think I'm going to tell a police officer i killed a girl if I didn't kill her.
00:26:12>> That is hard for most people in america to believe, that a person could be led to confess to a crime they did not commit.
00:26:19>> Well, why would you do it?
00:26:24>> I was a 20-year-old kid 2,300 miles away from my real home.
00:26:28They scared me so bad, I would have said anything to get away from them.
00:26:30>> Just to make it stop.
00:26:33>> Anything to make it stop.
00:26:39>> And so barry beach now say s he confessed to a crime he did not commit.
00:26:47But in 1984 as authorities in montana prepared to put beach on trial for murder, there were complications.
00:26:52That tape recorded confession of barry beach's -- somehow, it was gone.
00:26:54>> I went to pull the tapes out of evidence.
00:26:56And the custodian of the records said that he had erased the tapes, and we wept ballistic because that was a murder investigation.
00:27:07>> That stuff's not supposed to be erased.
00:27:08>> The reason given to us is that this was an outside case.
00:27:09It wasn't ours.
00:27:13>> But detectives breathed a sigh of relief.
00:27:19Jay via himself had made a transcript of confession.
00:27:20Then another bombshell, this time from the police department in montana.
00:27:22It turned out that shortly before the trial a pubic hair had been found on kim nees' sweater, itself strangely found folded neatly near the truck.
00:27:36A scientist said it had characteristics similar to this of barry beach.
00:27:41He couldn't tell if it was barry's.
00:27:42Just that, well, it could have been.
00:27:43Just before the trial began, another stunning development.
00:27:47Poplar's police chief came forward to reveal that the night after the murder, somebody, deliberately he said, broke into the room where kim nees' sweater and other crime scene evidence was stored.
00:28:00Actually kicked down the door, broke open a pad lock, even though the sign quite clearly " and the person who did this was a police officer and unbelievably, the father of one of the girls listed as the original suspects.
00:28:20So, when the trial began at the courthouse, glasgow, montana, there would be no confession on tape to play for the jury, they'd read jay via's transcript instead.
00:28:29That one strand of hair that might have been used as physical evidence to connect beach to the crime was ruled out too.
00:28:36Since it had been compromised by that break-in.
00:28:40Still the prosecutor was confident.
00:28:42>> I had a detailed confession that only the killer could have given.
00:28:45>> Within a decade, marc racicot would be elected montana's governor.
00:28:50But in 1984 he was an assistant montana attorney general called in to prosecute barry beach.
00:28:54>> He gave a very detailed confession that matched the things that were discovered at the crime scene, from the two different murder weapons, to what he did with the body, why the blood spots were located where they were, by the truck and down by the river.
00:29:08On and on and on.
00:29:11>> But what about all that other physical evidence?
00:29:15That evidence seemed to point not at beach but toward one or more other attackers.
00:29:24There were lots of fingerprints in and on the truck, none of them belonged to beach.
00:29:26There were footprints on the drag trail from the truck to the river where kim's body was dumped.
00:29:28The footprints were not his, either.
00:29:34That bloody towel found in town on which a couple of hairs could have been kim nees', the blood was not barry beach's.
00:29:42The prosecutor told the jury to ignore it.
00:29:43All because police had contaminated the crime scene.
00:29:54 miami," where people show up with the latest equipment, the latest capacity.
00:29:57They did the best they could with what they had available to them.
00:30:00>> Yes.
00:30:01And so did the prosecutor at trial.
00:30:06About, for example, that bloody palm print found on kim nees' truck.
00:30:08Remember, an fbi report said find the owner of that print and you will have found the killer.
00:30:11And it didn't belong to barry beach.
00:30:14The prosecutor told the jury that another fbi report suggested the print might have been left by kim nees herself and so the jury could ignore that evidence too.
00:30:27As the trial wore on, barry beach sitting at the defendant's table had a sinking feeling.
00:30:31What did that feel like?
00:30:33>> You want to scream at somebody and say, wait a minute.
00:30:39You're wrong, and you can't.
00:30:41The only thing you can do is sit there and do as your attorney tells you to do.
00:30:43But, man, I wanted to jump up and tell them they were wrong.
00:30:46>> When testimony was finished, the jury was back in just six hours.
00:30:52The verdict, guilty.
00:30:54For barry beach's mother, it was devastating.
00:30:56Do you remember that moment?
00:31:04>> Something a person wouldn't ever forget.
00:31:06>> The victim's sister, pam, heard the news from her father.
00:31:09>> Yeah.
00:31:13He told me that he would never be able to get out and that it was over, you know.
00:31:19>> Didn't really feel a sense of relief, did you?
00:31:24>> Yeah, I did.
00:31:25But then again, it was also pain.
00:31:26It was like, why?
00:31:27You know, why him?
00:31:27>> Why would barry do that?
00:31:28>> Yeah.
00:31:30He was never mean to me.
00:31:32You know?
00:31:33I didn't know of him to be crazy or nothing.,.
00:31:38You know?
00:31:38I didn't know of him to be crazy you know?
00:31:41I didn't know of him to be crazy or nothing.
00:31:42>> Yet at sentencing, bar y beach's life was, for all intents and purposes, finished.
00:31:47>> I looked at the judge in the eye.
00:31:48And I told him again I was innocent of this crime.
00:31:49And I asked for his mercy.
00:31:50I asked him to give me a chance to have a future.
00:31:51And he wouldn't do it.
00:31:56>> How long's your sentence?
00:31:57>> I'm doing 100 years dangerous.
00:31:59No parole, no furlough, hard labor.
00:32:04>> In the spring of 1984, barry beach entered montana's state prison as a dead man walking.
00:32:08He'd surely die here, never be eligible for parole.
00:32:12Never have a chance.
00:32:15Or would he?
00:32:18>>> Coming up, they were strangers.
00:32:20Now, they're believers in the innocence of barry beach.
00:32:24>> Barry beach had nothing to do with this crime and has sat in prison for a quarter of a century for something he didn't do.
00:32:35>> Why are they so sure?
00:32:35When "the killing of poplar RIVER" CONTINUES.s?
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00:35:06]" >>> I'm milissa rehberger.
00:35:51Six were injured in a crash.
00:35:5214 People were in the vn at the time of the crash.
00:35:55>>> American hiker sarah shourd is on her way back to the u.s.
00:36:00Shourd says she'll continue to work for the release effortrts for fellow hikers who still behind bars.
00:36:07>>> Now, back to "the killing at " >>> by 2007, barry beach had spent more than half his life at montana state prison or similar lock-ups, locked up at the age of 20 for the murder of kim nees.
00:36:28He was now 45.
00:36:31He'd never had a parole hearing.
00:36:33He'd never get one.
00:36:34With a sentence of 100 years, it was behind this forbidding wall of barbed wire that barry beach was destined to die.
00:36:42You are the worst of the worst?
00:36:43>> Yes, sir.
00:36:45In some people's eyes.
00:36:48>> What do you mean, in some people's eyes?
00:36:52>> Obviously the judge who sentenced me felt that I should never see society again.
00:36:56>> You're not going to get out of here, are you?
00:36:58>> When they gave me 100 years, that means they gave me 100 years to prove I didn't commit the crime that put me behind prison bars.
00:37:07>> I've got to say this now because I can just hear all across the country, you know, a million people going, oh, yeah.
00:37:15They're all innocent in prison.
00:37:16Nobody ever committed the crime.
00:37:18Why should they believe you, barry?
00:37:21>> Keith, I've heard a lot of people say that myself.
00:37:25But I know from experience that when you're truly innocent of the crime that put you behind prison bars, there's a fire that lives inside of your heart.
00:37:34That is based on truth.
00:37:35That you never let go of.
00:37:38>> And when barry beach sat down with us in january 2007, he'd spent decades, literally, proclaiming his innocence, writing letters, filing appeals that went nowhere, time after time.
00:37:51Asking for help.
00:37:53Did anyone, he wondered, ever listen?
00:37:55A few did.
00:37:57Until one of those letters reached this man.
00:38:03>> We get 1,100, 1,200 letters a year from people asking for our help.
00:38:06>> This is the reverend jim McCLUSKY, THE FOUNDER OF A group called centurion ministries.
00:38:17He went to work as student chaplain at new jersey's trenton state prison.
00:38:21There he became involved in the case of a convict who was later revealed to be innocent.
00:38:24And the experience changed his life too.
00:38:29>> I started centurion.
00:38:30This is my sense of spiritual calling to do this work.
00:38:35But we could care less if those whom we serve, the convicted, innocent in prison, it doesn't matter if they have any religious inclination at all.
00:38:47>> And centurion running with a small staff, six people paid only through donations, has compiled quite a record.
00:38:51OVER 25 YEARS, McCLUSKY'S GROUP Had freed from prison or death row 40 men and women wrongly convicted.
00:39:03>> So what does it feel like when one of the people gets out of prison?
00:39:09>> Let me just say this.
00:39:10It doesn't get old.
00:39:10It's new and joyful every time.
00:39:14>> But back in 1991 when centurion received barry beach's first letter asking for help, it took six long years before a review was even begun.
00:39:28Do you have to be convinced beyond any doubt that somebody is actually innocent?
00:39:30>> Yes, we do.
00:39:30We don't take a case on unless we are convinced of the person's innocence.
00:39:32>> So when centurion's team, which included attorney peter camille and an investigator, richard hepburn, went to work, reading reports and trial transcripts, they took a hard look at any clues that might have told them barry beach was or was not telling the truth.
00:39:50>> When I read it originally the fact that this 17-year-old youngster, not a master criminal, was able to create this havoc and not leave one single sin till la of evidence that he was even there, I was suspicious.
00:40:09>> Did anybody see him with the victim at all that day?
00:40:10>> No one.
00:40:10>> There's no evidence to prove that he wasn't home because nobody did see him.
00:40:16>> But before centurion would commit to the case, its investigators wondered, as anyone would, what about that confession taken by louisiana detectives back in 1983?
00:40:30After all, barry beach was read his rights.
00:40:32Again and again.
00:40:32Before he admitted to murder and then offered details of the crime police said only the killer would have known.
00:40:35How in the world could any serious investigation avoid those inescapable facts?
00:40:39There is a signed confession.
00:40:41You ask anybody around the country, of course, he did it.
00:40:47>> There have been over 200 men exonerated by dna from sexual assaults or murder.
00:40:50Convicted, imprisoned, who have later been freed and exonerated.
00:40:5425% Of those men falsely confessed to that crime when arrested under interrogation.
00:41:06>> So centurion, knowing that false confessions do indeed occur, dug a little deeper.
00:41:13Consulting an expert who did a 13-page confession and made a remarkable discovery.
00:41:15Beach's confession conflicted with the one thing investigators say never lies.
00:41:20The physical evidence at the crime scene.
00:41:30What did he get wrong?
00:41:34Well, for one thing, beach told his interrogators that kim had tried to get away from him by scrambling out the driver's side door.
00:41:41But the evidence showed she'd actually came out the passenger's side door.
00:41:43Right where that still unidentified bloody palm print was found.
00:41:44>> All of the forensic evidence shows that she was pulled out the passenger's side.
00:41:53That's very clear from the blood splatter inside and outside the truck.
00:41:55>> There was more.
00:41:56Beach told police his fingerprints weren't found on the truck because he'd wiped them off.
00:41:59Centurion wondered how could he wipe off his prints but leave more than two dozen others undisturbed?
00:42:05Then there was this.
00:42:07Beach told police he had put the body in a plastic garbage bag feet-first.
00:42:15And then, had dragged kim down to the river by her shoulders.
00:42:17But the evidence showed kim was dragged not by her shoulders but by her feet.
00:42:24And police found not one shred of any plastic garbage bag anywhere along the rocky trail from the pickup to the river.
00:42:32Finally, beach told police he had made at least three, separate trips to the river to dispose of the murder weapons, then the body, and then the truck keys and kim's jacket, as if the river were mere yards away rather than the length of a football field.
00:42:51>>> Coming up -- >> they told the jury there was evidence that they didn't actually have.
00:42:54>> That's right.
00:42:55So saying that they have a hair that a scientist has examined that matches the defendant, putting him at the crime scene, put in the minds of the jury that there was corroboration of this confession when there wasn't -- >> when "the killing at poplar river" continues.
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00:45:36O0 c1 >>> barry's story and that's all it is, is a story.
00:46:01And all the elements of the story do not comport with the forensic facts and circumstances of the case, the crime scene and the way the crime unfolded.
00:46:10>> And then, centurion says it found something.
00:46:16Evidence it would claim was a smoking gun that a something funny was going on.
00:46:22Information that suggested poplar police were feeding information through louisiana detectives, straight into barry beach's confession.
00:46:26Centurion found the transcript of a phone call it claims suggests louisiana detective jay vai believed the victim had been wearing a brown plaid shirt.
00:46:39Sure enough, in beach's confession, he described her clothes in nearly the same way.
00:46:42A brown sports jacket, a plaid polyester blouse, which would have been fine if it were true.
00:46:49But it was not.
00:46:50In reality, kim nees' shirt was blue.
00:46:51Her sweater, off-white.
00:46:54>> After the confession, the louisiana detective realizes that he heard the description of the clothing wrong from the montana sheriff.
00:47:05So now they've got a problem because barry's got the clothes wrong.
00:47:13>> What do they do?
00:47:14>> They just discount it.
00:47:15Maybe he didn't remember exactly what she was wearing.
00:47:16Explain it away.
00:47:17>> Then, with a little digging, centurion uncovered what it believed to be some pretty disturbing information about the louisiana detectives.
00:47:23Remember those three louisiana murders about which detectives once questioned beach?
00:47:28Well, months later the same detectives filed charges against two other men who confessed to those murders.
00:47:42But later, their charges would be dropped, their confessions revealed to be false.
00:47:51>> So you've got detective s with a track record of claiming that they've got detailed confessions with people, with information that only the killer could know, and those are false confessions.
00:47:58And it speaks volumes about what they claim to be the validity of barry's confession.
00:48:00>> The doubts were adding up for centurion.
00:48:02After coming to the conclusion that beach's confession was false and contained facts that apeeshed -- appeared to have been planted by police, the investigators made dozens of trips to montana, searching for witnesses and physical evidence to show barry was not the killer.
00:48:30Remember, according to the state, the only physical evidence linking beach to the murder was a pubic hair found on kim nees' sweater, a hair an analyst said had similar characteristics to the hair of barry beach.
00:48:35Didn't say it was barry's hair, just that it could have been.
00:48:37But even that could not be introduced as an exhibit at trial because that cop had broken into the evidence room.
00:48:43So imagine centurion's surprise when the trial transcript revealed that prosecutor marc racicot told the jury straight out in his opening statement that the pubic hair did belong to barry beach.
00:48:58>> They told the jury this was evidence that they didn't actually have.
00:49:02>> That's right.
00:49:04So saying that they have a hair that a scientist examined matching the defendant, putting him at the crime scene.
00:49:08And not just a hair, but a pubic hair, which is suggestive of some sexual motive in the crime, put in the minds of the jury that there was corroboration of this confession when there wasn't.
00:49:20>> Are you saying that prosecutor in the trial actually crossed an ethical line in terms of what he failed to tell the jury and what he alleged to the jury that wasn't true?
00:49:27>> There was misconduct.
00:49:33>> Although every court that has reviewed the case has disagreed and said there was no misconduct, centurion pressed on.
00:49:45Learning first that the analyst who linked the hair to beach had later been fired for gross misconduct and incompetence.
00:49:48Then that the hair and all the other evidence from the case had disappeared from montana's crime lab.
00:49:51>> And we asked the crime lab to allow us to have an expert go in, take a look at their recordkeeping, and try to do an inventory to see if maybe they misfiled it, misplaced it.
00:50:08And the word was absolutely no.
00:50:08Nobody's coming into our crime lab.
00:50:09>> Any explanation?
00:50:10>> No, no.
00:50:10They just say we're not going to let you in there.
00:50:12>> What about the evidence that does exist?
00:50:19The fingerprints and that bloody palm print.
00:50:20Remember, none of those prints belonged to barry beach.
00:50:23So centurion wondered, couldn't those prints be compared with all the other potential suspects in the case?
00:50:28>> How many police officers in this country investigating a homicide would love to have a footprint and a bloody palm print?
00:50:38And unidentified fingerprints?
00:50:39This is stuff that you see on " does anybody care who that bloody palm print belongs to?
00:50:42Do you guys really care?
00:50:53If they really wanted to discover who that belonged to, they could do it.
00:50:55But they won't do it.
00:50:56And you know why they won't do it?
00:50:57Because they're afraid of the truth.
00:50:58And they're afraid of the proof, that it would prove that ultimately demonstrate that barry beach had nothing to do with this crime and has sat in prison for a quarter of a century for something he didn't do.
00:51:13>> But if barry beach did not kill kim nees, then who did?
00:51:15Well, that's what makes this case a little different because centurion's case not only believes that beach is innocent but that he knows who is guilty.
00:51:22And you're about to hear from the witnesses who say they know the real story of what happened that night so long ago.
00:51:32>>> Coming up, troubling recollections.
00:51:42>> She was talking about the kim nees murder and how the wrong person got put in jail.
00:51:45>> What a strange thing to hear.
00:51:45>> They gave me the creeps.
00:51:47>> When "the killing at poplar river" continues.
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00:54:55ó >>> by 2007, barry beach had been behind bars in montana for 24 years.
00:55:08Now, after a decade of work, investigators from centurion ministries had come to a conclusion.
00:55:11Even though beach confessed to killing kim nees back in the summer of 1979, he was, they believed, an innocent man.
00:55:24>> We have not developed any information that would tell us, hey, maybe barry's guilty.
00:55:35Because if we did I can assure you that centurion ministries would have dropped this case years ago and moved on to more fertile fields.
00:55:51>> I can see the state saying, you guys are just trying to be heroes at the expense of justice.
00:55:53>> We are not afraid of admitting we've made a mistake.
00:55:55We've done it before.
00:55:55And we'll probably do it again.
00:55:56But in this case, I don't have any information that says we're wrong.
00:55:58>> But it was the secrets in this old town that persuaded centurion it had a different kind of case.
00:56:01That it was able to say, not only barry beach was innocent but that it knew or thought it now who might be the real killers.
00:56:14For 25 years the rumors had persisted that a group of girls killed kim nees.
00:56:17And now, centurions' investigators encountered more than just rumors.
00:56:21What did centurion have to point to a group of killers?
00:56:27Remember the prosecution theory in barry beach's confession was that beach alone killed kim nees.
00:56:31At this popular party spot about a half mile outside of town, near the poplar river.
00:56:4730 in the MORNING OF JUNE 16th, 1979.
00:56:48But listen to this witness found by centurion.
00:56:49A rancher who says he saw kim nees' pickup at 2:30 a.m.
00:56:51Heading out of poplar toward the spot where she was found dead just hours later.
00:57:01>> What I remembered the most about it is the pickup was so full of people.
00:57:03>> Could you tell if they were boys or girls?
00:57:04>> No.
00:57:08But I mean it was just full of people.
00:57:13>> The state claims the rancher has changed his story since the days after the murder.
00:57:15Could it be a false memory do you think?
00:57:16>> No.
00:57:16I can see it.
00:57:1730 is key, says centurion, because listen to what two more witnesses heard at that time from the area where kim nees was killed.
00:57:32>> What do we have that illustrates that she was killed at around 2:30?
00:57:35We have joel spavier and his mother living on the bluff overlooking the park.
00:57:38He hears screaming.
00:57:48His mother hears somebody yelling, help me, help me.
00:57:50A high-pitched female voice.
00:57:51Coming from the park.
00:57:52>> Could they have heard the murder being committed?
00:57:56Next, centurions' investigators found this rancher who says he got a phone call just a couple of hours later before dawn.
00:58:04>> And it was from a lady by the name of sissy atkinson.
00:58:07>> Sissy atkinson.
00:58:08That's a name to remember.
00:58:11>> She proceeded to tell me that they found kim nees' body down by the train bridge.
00:58:18>> Has did you think when you -- >> how did she know?
00:58:25>> How indeed, especially given the hour.
00:58:29What time was it?
00:58:30>> Around 5:00.
00:58:31How could anyone know that a body had been found two full hours before the police had discovered it?
00:58:43Did you ever tell the authorities what had happened?
00:58:44>> I might have mentioned it to the county.
00:58:45But I think it went in one ear and out the other.
00:58:46Especially after they rounded up beach.
00:58:49>> Then there was this.
00:58:52Centurions' investigators found a man who said years later he'd overheard sissy atkinson making incriminating statements in a factory where they both worked.
00:59:05>> She was talking about the kim nees murder and how the wrong person got put in jail.
00:59:13>> What a strange thing to hear.
00:59:14>> It gave me the creeps.
00:59:15You know?
00:59:15And as she walked by, she looked at me and she said, we got away with the perfect crime.
00:59:24>> She said that to you?
00:59:24>> Yeah.
00:59:25And I just said, hey, you stay the hell away from me.
00:59:27>> Finally, there's one more person who claims he heard sissy atkinson talk about the murder.
00:59:38Maybe the last person you'd think would ever come forward.
00:59:40>> I think kim nees is looking over sissy's shoulder all the time.
00:59:41>> This man's name is jd.
00:59:44His last name, atkinson.
00:59:46Yes, sissy atkinson's brother.
00:59:49During a visit to montana state prison, where he was serving time on drug charges, we asked to see him.
00:59:55We asked if he had any information about the murder, and to our surprise he said yes.
01:00:07The story goes this way, says j.d.
01:00:08One night he and sissy were talking and she was high.
01:00:09Did your sister, sissy, tell you that she was there the night that kim nees was killed?
01:00:14>> Well, the way she said it that they were partying down there.
01:00:16>> And there were other girls there too.
01:00:21>> Yeah.
01:00:22>> How much did she get out before she dropped off?
01:00:24>> Just that one of them girls come running around the pickup with a crescent wrench.
01:00:28>> Remember, the medical examiner said at least one of the weapons that killed kim nees was likely a crescent wrench.
01:00:36 atkinson said his sister passed out before saying any more.
01:00:43>> One of the things we keep hearing from the state is that if these girls were involved, they wouldn't have have kept quiet.
01:00:53Somebody would have heard something over the years.
01:00:55And these people who have come forward did hear something.
01:00:56And they didn't keep quiet.
01:00:57And that's why it's important.
01:00:57>> But after all these years, does it really add up to new evidence?
01:01:00All you have is just a lot of hearsay evidence that says the hearsay evidence about barry isn't really very good.
01:01:09>> We claim -- we claim it's not hearsay.
01:01:11When you have sissy atkinson confessing to being one of four girls who were killing kim, that's not hearsay.
01:01:16That's a confession.
01:01:26>> We wondered, what would those girls, named as suspects by centurion in this long ago murder, have to say about all of this?
01:01:30We have heard a lot of stories.
01:01:31What happened that night?
01:01:32You're about to hear their side of the story.
01:01:35For the very first time.
01:01:39>>> Coming up, one of the girls, 30 years later.
01:01:45Why would your own brother say that you started to tell him how yore were involved in that?
01:01:58>> I'm really going to confront him on this because he's tripping.
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01:05:13>>> In the most remote corner of northeast montana, a cloud of suspicion, had settled over a number of women in the decade since the murder of kim nees, and now investigators for barry beach, the poplar man hood served 24 years in the prison for murder were riding into town and naming these same women as the real killers.
01:05:37And one name in particular had come up again and again.
01:05:38The alleged ring leader, sissy atkinson.
01:05:39What might she have to say about these allegations all these years later?
01:05:41>> I had no knowledge of it.
01:05:42I was not there.
01:05:44I had no participation in it.
01:05:48>> This is sissy atkinson.
01:05:50She is now 52.
01:05:56An addict, admittedly.
01:05:57Cocaine, meth, painkillers and she was perhaps understandably not happy about still facing questions from us or centurion about this murder nearly three decades ago.
01:06:07>> I told those ministry guys, i said, when we all die and go to heaven and you guys find out that I had no knowledge of it, i was not there, I had no participation in it, I don't know who did it, I hope you guys will be gentlemen enough to come and find me in heaven and tell me you're sorry.
01:06:32>> In fact, said sissy, on the night of the murder she was, indeed, with that group of girls, the subjects of the rumor but she said after buying beer for some underage teens at a local bar and then the police coming by, she made a request to one of the girls.
01:06:54>> So I said, could you please take me home?
01:06:56You know?
01:06:56I don't want to be caught for contributing.
01:06:57She drove me to my home, and i went in and I went to bed.
01:06:59>> So you were in bed by when that night?
01:07:02Do you remember?
01:07:03>> 11:00.
01:07:03>> 11:00 At night?
01:07:04>> Uh-huh.
01:07:04>> Who can back up that alibi?
01:07:05>> Well, nobody.
01:07:09My mom's not here no more, and i lived with my mom.
01:07:17Just me and my mom and my baby.
01:07:20>> She's the only one to back up the alibi and she is gone?
01:07:21>> Right.
01:07:21>> We have heard from maybe, i don't know, half a dozen people who put you there that night.
01:07:24>> No.
01:07:24>> Not possible?
01:07:24>> Not possible whatsoever.
01:07:28It would make me go crazy if i knew that.
01:07:31>> Well, that's the allegation, that it kind of did over the years, that maybe the reason why you've had trouble with drugs is because -- >> no, no.
01:07:37There's different reasons.
01:07:39>> Why would we have witnesses who say that you said a few years after the murder that you got away with a perfect crime?
01:07:46>> No.
01:07:51Never, ever came out of my mouth.
01:07:54>> But what would sissy atkinson say when she learned that one of her accusers was her own flesh and blood?
01:07:58Why would your own brother say that you started to tell him about how you were involved in that?
01:08:04>> What brother?
01:08:04>> Jd.
01:08:06>> Jd, no.
01:08:08I don't even know what he's talking about.
01:08:11I have never talked to him about that.
01:08:18>> Well, as you've seen, that's atkinson told us during our interview at the montana state prison p.
01:08:31So we played the interview for his sister.
01:08:33>> How much did she get out before she dropped off?
01:08:34>> Well, just that one of them girls came running around the pickup with a crescent wrench.
01:08:36In my own mind, I think kim nees is looking over sissy's shoulder all the time.
01:08:39>> J.d.
01:08:42I'm really going to confront him on this because he's tripping.
01:08:49>> Is it possible that it's blocked somehow?
01:08:52>> In my mind?
01:08:53>> Yeah.
01:08:53>> No.
01:08:53I've got a very, very good memory.
01:08:55>> I don't want to be cruel when I say this, but if you do have a really good memory, you're probably the only addict on the face of the earth that does.
01:09:04What's it going to take to stop the whispers?
01:09:06>> I don't know.
01:09:06I don't care because I'm not involved.
01:09:07Let them talk all they want.
01:09:12>> And, in fact, there is no physical evidence linking sissy atkinson to the crime scene.
01:09:16That bloody palm print, not hers.
01:09:17No fingerprints either.
01:09:19>> I have been cleared of everything.
01:09:22If I was down there, I'm sure they would have found some kind of dna on me.
01:09:27You know?
01:09:31>> After our interview with sissy, we went looking for more of those girls now women whom witnesses have placed at the scene.
01:09:37Another name that comes up again and again is maude greyhawk.
01:09:40Her father was the police officer who kicked in the door to the evidence room the night after the murder.
01:09:50We repeatedly tried to reach her but couldn't.
01:09:51And a third name is jo ann jackson.
01:09:53Like sissy, jo ann claims to have been home in bed hours before the murder.
01:10:00>> I don't have any reason to be implicated in this whatsoever.
01:10:02You know?
01:10:04I had -- I went home.
01:10:05I talked to my mother.
01:10:06>> You know what time of night that was?
01:10:07>> Around 11:00.
01:10:10>> After that, you have no idea what happened?
01:10:11>> No.
01:10:12>> You were asleep the rest of the time?
01:10:13>> Yes.
01:10:14>> Jo ann jackson's fingerprints and palm prints have also been compared to those left at the scene.
01:10:25No match.
01:10:29Yet there are several others, centurion says, at least four women and two men who might have been there whose prints have never been compared.
01:10:3900 that night, it turns out.
01:10:40>> I don't know why -- you know, I just don't understand it.
01:10:41My sister was with me.
01:10:42That's the weird thing.
01:10:43You know, they must have questioned her 10,000 times, too, and she said the same thing.
01:10:49>> So where does all this leave barry beach?
01:10:50What is the truth?
01:10:51Well, centurion's investigation would soon lead to something beach had been seeking for decades.
01:11:01A remarkable hearing unlike any ever held before in the state of montana, maybe in all the united states.
01:11:04A new trial of sorts.
01:11:11And, yes, a shot at freedom.
01:11:14>>> Coming up, great expectations.
01:11:16Do you really think you're going to get out of here?
01:11:17>> Yes, sir.
01:11:18>> And a grueling round of testimony.
01:11:19When "the killing at poplar river" continues.
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01:14:37>>> In the summer of 2007, a room deep inside montana's state prison would be the scene of something extraordinary.
01:14:45After seven years of investigation, barry beach's team from centurion ministries had gathered all of its evidence and witnesses and filed a petition, asking montana's board of pardons and paroles for a chance to make its case that barry beach was an innocent man, wrongly imprisoned.
01:15:13And the response from the board was amazing.
01:15:15The board said, yes, it would hear the case for beach's innocence.
01:15:16The centurion team gathered in montana.
01:15:17What is your feeling today as you prepare for this barry beach hearing?
01:15:21>> For them to initiate this and conduct a factual hearing on innocence and innocence alone, it's never happened in the united states before, that I'm aware of.
01:15:30>> And the stakes could not have been higher.
01:15:33The board of pardons and paroles had immense power.
01:15:36It could recommend to the governor a full pardon.
01:15:44It could commute the sentence.
01:15:46It could reduce the sentence.
01:15:47Or deny the clemency request altogether, and barry beach, would, in that case, most likely spend the rest of his days in prison.
01:15:51Beach having waited decades for this day entered into shackles but felt exhilaration.
01:16:00Aren't you afraid to get your hopes up?
01:16:04I mean you've got this sort of shine in your eyes like you're onto something here, but, you know, they might just send you back and say, forget about it, barry.
01:16:19>> They have done that in the past as has every court in the united states but I have a team behind me fighting for me.
01:16:22>> Do you really think you're going to get out of here?
01:16:23>> Yes, sir.
01:16:23>> The room at the prison was filled with beach's supporters.
01:16:31Here was his mother who stood by him and watched the wild boy grow into a boy scout, active in prison ministries, native american groups, a respected man.
01:16:41How do you feel about him and how he's handled all of this?
01:16:42>> Barry's my hero.
01:16:44>> Your hero?
01:16:45>> Times when I felt down, barry's the one who's lifted me up.
01:16:52And how can a person, any person, be locked up for 24 years, 25 years, 30 years and be innocent and not go out of their mind?
01:17:10>> Even pam johnson felt compelled to attend.
01:17:1428 Years after she lost her only sister.
01:17:16But in all those years, barry's confession never seemed fully believable.
01:17:21Not to her.
01:17:23Why is it so important to know?
01:17:25>> Because I'm that kind of a person.
01:17:26I ask why everything.
01:17:27Why, why, why.
01:17:28You know?
01:17:31>> And the burden to prove that kim nees was indeed killed by someone else was now on the shoulders of beach's defense team from centurion.
01:17:39First, the defense called an expert in false confessions.
01:17:43>> It's one of the leading causes of wrongful confessions.
01:17:47>> Professor richard leo examined beach's confession.
01:17:52He found it lacked specifics as police claimed only the killer could have known.
01:18:04>> Was there any particular fact beach's confession that suggested to you that this is something that is unique knowledge, that wasn't out there in the public realm that mr. beach described?
01:18:09>> Not that I can think of, no.
01:18:10>> Remember, beach's defense team alleged that detective jay via of louisiana planted information and then had beach retrieve it.
01:18:17But the defense claimed there was far too much detail in that 13-page confession provided he had only spoke on the montana sheriff twice.
01:18:26So the defense called the sheriff's dispatcher who claimed there were a lot more than just two calls.
01:18:33>> How many in terms of the total number of calls do you think came in from louisiana during this time period?
01:18:40>> I bet you there was at least ten that were logged.
01:18:47>> Then the defense called detective vai, and asked about what it called that smoking gun, the idea that something was funny about beach's confession.
01:19:05Remember, centurion found the transcript of a phone call it claimed, suggests, that jay via believed the victim had been wearing a brown plaid shirt and sure enough in beach's confession he described her clothes in nearly the same way, a brown sports jacket, a plaid, polyester blouse.
01:19:11>> Your inaccuracy ends up in his statement.
01:19:14That's an indication of a false fact contaminating a confession.
01:19:16Isn't it?
01:19:19>> Are you asking me is that what happened in this case?
01:19:22Did I know she was wearing one or thought she was wearing one?
01:19:24No, sir.
01:19:25>> Next, by a video conference, the defense called via's partner who took the confession.
01:19:34Retired sheriff's commander alfred calhoun.
01:19:36He's the man beach accused of threatening him, scaring him into confession, by describing how he'd be put to death in louisiana's electric chair.
01:19:50>> I've been accused of a lot of thing, but in this case, I'm not guilty of threatening that young man.
01:19:52>>> Coming up, she said that she believed that there was someone else involved.
01:19:54She thought that kim was lured down to the bridge by another female because she couldn't see kim going down there to that area by herself to meet with mr.
01:20:08>> When "the killing at poplar river" continues.
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01:22:45>>> As for that central piece of physical evidence, the bloody palm print that failed to match barry beach, an fbi report, remember, concluded that the print likely left by the unsub, the murderer.
01:22:49At trial, the prosecutor said that the print could have been left by the victim, kim nees.
01:22:52But it turned out that the sheriff who investigated the case for years had another theory altogether.
01:23:00That after the murder somebody simply happened by the scene, got blood on his or her hands and then rather than reporting the crime simply left, leaving a bloody palm print behind.
01:23:16>> Do you have any witness to support your theory?
01:23:18>> No, sir.
01:23:18>> Okay.
01:23:18Do you have any forensic evidence to support your theory?
01:23:20>> No, sir.
01:23:20>> The defense claimed montana law enforcement doesn't want to know whose palm print it is because it would unravel the case against barry beach.
01:23:25>> We have a whole list of people who we have good reason to believe were down there in the park either participating in the murder or observing the murder who could be possible donors.
01:23:45These people have never been -- >> hadn't had their palm prints taken?
01:23:47>> No, no.
01:23:47We don't have the power to do it.
01:23:48>> So centurion moved to the big question -- if barry beach wasn't the killer, was it that group of girls?
01:23:51Remember, at least two of them claimed they were home in bed by that night hours before the murder.
01:24:03To knock down those alibis, the defense called the owner of bum steer bar.
01:24:05And said she knows where sissy and the other girls were that night, and they were not at home in bed.
01:24:08>> They gathered around sissy and them, and they'd leave, and I'd get them out of there, and they'd want to come back in, and I just had trouble all night with them.
01:24:23>> Okay.
01:24:24All the way up to closing time?
01:24:25And closing was at 2:00?
01:24:26>> 2:00.
01:24:26>> Next they called witnesses tying sissy and a larger group to the crime.
01:24:31That rancher who said he saw kim nees truck cab filled with people about 2:30 a.m.
01:24:42>> Could you tell many occupants were in the cab?
01:24:44At least five.
01:24:44>> The man saying he got a phone call from sissy two hours before the body was discovered.
01:24:46>> I don't know if that young man did or did not do it, but i do know one thing.
01:24:54I got the phone call.
01:24:55>> There were more.
01:24:56The co-worker who claimed sissy confessed to him.
01:24:57>> She looked right at me and she said, we got away with a perfect crime.
01:25:10>> Another witness who said sissy confessed to her.
01:25:12>> She proceeded to tell me that her and maude greyhawk had something to do with it.
01:25:15>> Then sissy atkinson's brother jd took the stand and told the " >> -- and she mentioned that she thought somebody was chasing kim ning kim eING Kim eING Kim ing kim ing kim ing kim around way wrench or something.
01:25:37>> Jd said he was under duress and just days before, claimed to have received a threat from an investigator at the montana attorney general's office if he testified.
01:25:41>> He asked me if I was aware of the penalty for perjury and i said, well, I haven't said anything that I know that's perjury.
01:25:46>> Did that scare you?
01:25:47>> I felt threatened.
01:25:52>> After trying to tie sissy atkinson to the crime through her own words, the defense next moved to do the same with another woman, long suspected of involvement.
01:25:58Maude greyhawk.
01:26:00Greyhawk's sister-in-law testified that maude had made a startling admission.
01:26:10>> She said, all I did was kick her in the head a few times.
01:26:12And I lured her down there.
01:26:12It just blew my mind.
01:26:14It just really upset me.
01:26:17I couldn't handle it.
01:26:19>> She was coming forward even though it might destroy her 30-year marriage to maude's brother.
01:26:30>> He threatened to divorce me.
01:26:31I said, well, go ahead and divorce me then but I'm not going to back down from my statement.
01:26:33It is the truth and I'm not going to perjure myself.
01:26:34>> Even maude greyhawk didn't believe beach killed nees, at least not according to the sheriff's deputy who interviewed her years later.
01:26:48>> She said she thought there was someone else who was involved.
01:26:52She thought that kim was lured down to the bridge by another female, because she couldn't see kim going down there to that area by herself to meet with mr.
01:26:57She said that kim was kind of a scaredy-cat.
01:27:04>> Finally beach's defense team subpoenaed the two women whose names surfaced in the days after the murder and were still being whispered decades later.
01:27:17Sissy atkinson and maude greyhawk.
01:27:19Maude greyhawk first agreed to appear and then didn't show up but sissy atkinson did attend the hearing and attempted to answer all those lingering questions about her whereabouts that night and her credibility now.
01:27:29What did she do the night of the murder?
01:27:31Remember, sissy told us she had been dropped off at her house about 11:00 p.m.
01:27:34Well, now, she was saying something rather different.
01:27:42>> You are now saying after you bought the beer, you walked home.
01:27:44>> I went home, yes.
01:27:44>> Do you recall telling the attorney general I had them take me home?
01:27:48>> You know, that's been so many years ago, and I'm -- you know, I had a drug problem all these years.
01:27:57>> Is it possible you didn't go home?
01:27:58>> No.
01:27:59I did go home.
01:27:59>> And about the call she allegedly made about kim's body being found?
01:28:03>> I don't think I did.
01:28:03I was in -- still sleeping by then.
01:28:12>> What about all those admissions she's accused of making, including about her involvement in the murder?
01:28:23Including the one to her own brother.
01:28:24>> I never, ever, ever discussed kim nees, maude, any of them, ever.
01:28:26>> And so beach's defense team from centurion ministries rested his case, confident it had raised serious doubts about the trail that had convicted him all those years ago.
01:28:37There was that potentially a tainted confession.
01:28:39The total lack of physical evidence implicating beach and centurion's alternate theory that kim nees was killed by a group of girls jealous about a valedictorian about to leave poplar behind.
01:28:54But now it was the turn of the state of montana.
01:28:56And the one-time prosecutor turned two-term governor marc racicot was about to offer testimony of his own.
01:29:01>>> Coming up -- the man behind the prosecution stands behind his case.
01:29:06>> It's not a theory or a premise.
01:29:09It's overwhelmingly powerfully true.
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01:32:23>>> I'm milissa rehberger.
01:32:26Here's what's happening.
01:32:27Forecasters say the hurricane is likely to pass over bermuda tomorrow or early monday.
01:32:34Tropical storm force winds are expected to start battling the islands tonight.
01:32:39Igor is now a category 2 storm.
01:32:42>>> Afghan has turned out for the first election since las year.
01:32:46At least 11 civilians and t ofe killed today.
01:32:51Overall the turnout was modest.
01:32:54>>> Now back to "the killing at " >>> members of montana's board of pardons and paroles have now heard from two dozen witnesses who have come forward with information that barry beach's defense team believed cleared beach of murder.
01:33:12>> She said we got away with the perfect crime.
01:33:15>> Pointed, the defense said, to a group of girls as the true murderers.
01:33:22>> She said, all I did was kick her in the head a few times.
01:33:34>> Now as prosecutors from the attorney general's office prepared to make their case, the sheriff who put barry beach in prison was facing the prospect of one of his biggest cases ever coming unravelled.
01:33:39>> You know, if the confession is expunged, that's a travesty because barry beach killed kim nees.
01:33:52>> But while beach's defense team had the burden of trying to prove beach was innocent, the state could call witnesses to defend the conviction, and ask the board to leave the convicted killer in prison.
01:33:57First, the state tried to cast doubt on the word of beach's witnesses like the statement made by this man who said he overheard sissy atkinson's admission in a factory where they both worked.
01:34:09This former worker said no way that could have happened.
01:34:11Too noisy in there.
01:34:13>> I would say he was working.
01:34:15>> Next a former sheriff that worked for a while with beach's defense team and then quit saying that to him, evidence seemed to be lacking.
01:34:27>> I just can't comprehend somebody that's not part of the crime not coming forward.
01:34:29You know?
01:34:39At some point somebody is going to say something, you know, a conspiracy like that just doesn't hold together.
01:34:42>> And then the prosecution brought to the stand the man who'd handled beach's arrest and confession and conviction.
01:34:45To give the board a chance to judge if he could be trusted.
01:34:48>> Did he ever deny killing kim nees during that interview?
01:34:50>> Never.
01:34:52>> First sheriff dean mahlum took the stand.
01:34:54To counter arguments that he fed enough information to louisiana detectives to frame beach.
01:35:07Remember, an ex-employee testified mahlum took ten or more phone calls from jay via that day.
01:35:09>> I think I had two with sergeant via, as I recall, on that day.
01:35:11>> I do.
01:35:12>> Then the state called back jay via himself.
01:35:15One of the louisiana detectives who took beach's confession.
01:35:18Back in 1983.
01:35:19>> As you sit here today, do you have any doubts about the confession barry beach gave you ON JANUARY 7th?
01:35:26>> Absolutely none whatsoever.
01:35:31>> And the detective, now retired, bristled over accusations he had planted information that came out in the confession.
01:35:42>> The bottom line is that the truth in 1983 is the same truth today.
01:35:44>> At any point along the way during this long investigation were you thinking, man, maybe i missed something there?
01:35:49>> I know that when I spoke with barry and what barry told me in that room was from his heart and true as he told it.
01:35:59I didn't give it to him.
01:36:00He gave it to us.
01:36:00>> And then via's partner in taking the confession, the closer, retired commander alfred calhoun.
01:36:11Beach accused him of screaming and threatening to put him to death in the electric chair.
01:36:17He returned via video conference and described the moment he says beach broke down in that interrogation room.
01:36:20>> When I informed him that i believed he was being deceptive beach threw his hands up a little bit like that and stated I'm having a vision.
01:36:30I see here by the right rear tire of the truck.
01:36:33>> Did you have any motive for getting barry beach to confess to a montana homicide?
01:36:35>> Only to seek the truth.
01:36:39>> Finally, the prosecutor in the case, former montana governor marc racicot took the witness stand with a passionate defense of his prosecution of barry beach.
01:36:56>> It's not a theory or a premise.
01:36:57It's overwhelmingly, powerfully true.
01:36:58>> The former prosecutor dismissed arguments that beach's confession was somehow off, on a number of points.
01:37:00And he claimed that even though no murder weapon was ever found much less connected with beach and no dna linked beach to the crime scene and no fingerprints, nor footprints or that bloody palm print were ever found to be his rngs he was guilty because his confession itself amounted to incontrovertible physical evidence.
01:37:32>> You could go all the way from the blows being struck.
01:37:33You had her sitting on the driver's side.
01:37:34You had the wounds to the head, created by a crescent wrench which mr. beach described.
01:37:36You had the gouges in the steering wheel.
01:37:43I mean, we could go on and on.
01:37:43Each one of those is a piece of physical evidence found at the beach's testimony.
01:37:46>> Is there any question in your mind with all the information that you have available to you beach is guilty as the jury found him?
01:37:54 curtis, it is a grave and very serious responsibility that the prosecutors performs.
01:38:00Every moment in time I performed to the highest standards and within ethical guidelines. performs.
01:38:06Every moment in time I performed to the highest standards and within ethical guidelines.
01:38:08There is not one moment of doubt ever in my mind since I have looked at this confession and been a part of this case that, in fact, barry beach is guilty as charged.
01:38:17>> Barry, of course, has protested for years that the confession was coerced and that he didn't kigi >> well, he's posited several theories.
01:38:28He said that the confession was inaccurate and then coerced and another occasion, drugged and then couldn't remember giving a confession.
01:38:34So you could pick any one of a number of theories that barry has had about the confession.
01:38:41>> There's a basket of witness statements coming from poplar all these years later.
01:38:43The fellow who said he saw four or five people in the pickup truck with kim nees, leaving the gas station, heading out to -- >> there were no fingerprints of any of those people in the truck.
01:38:56>> The fact that not one, not two, not three but about four different people have heard sissy atkinson say over the years, I did this thing.
01:38:59>> Not a scintilla of proof to support that.
01:39:01>> And now it was time for the man at the center of the case, barry beach himself, to face the board and make his case for freedom.
01:39:13>>> Coming up, prosecutors won't make it easy.
01:39:15>> You can remember everything that benefited you on january 7th, BUT ANYTHING THAT HURTS You, your memory has gone hazy, or you can't remember.
01:39:25>> When "the killing at poplar river" continues.
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01:42:11>>> There are moments in life that call for everything a person has to give.
01:42:15Once in just such a moment barry beach had confessed to murder.
01:42:20But here, here was the chance to undo it.
01:42:27To persuade montana's board of pardons and paroles that he is innocent.
01:42:29Here was the climax of the so-called innocence phase of the hearing.
01:42:37 beach, will you raise your right hand a.
01:42:41>> It would be up to the defendant to speak for himself.
01:42:42>> And I want to thank the parole board members for giving me this chance to come here today and tell you face to face I did not kill kim nees.
01:42:48>> Prosecutors trying to keep beach behind bars would get the first crack, hammering beach for changing his story over the years and for suggesting that louisiana detectives coerced him, drugged him, or somehow made him unable to recall his own confession back on january 7th, 1983.
01:43:08>> It seems to me that from listening to your testimony that you can remember everything that BENEFITTED YOU ON JANUARY 7th, But anything that hurts you, your memory has gone hazy or you can't remember.
01:43:23>> I don't know that anything on january 7th benefited me but my memory did begin to fade later on in the evening.
01:43:27>> So you can't remember giving your confession.
01:43:28>> Correct.
01:43:28>> You can't remember the officers recording your confession.
01:43:31>> No, I do not.
01:43:33>> Even though you're not denying that you actually gave the confession.
01:43:36>> I'll never deny that this took place.
01:43:37Look at what it's caused.
01:43:40>> You can't claim you were coerced and not remember giving a confession at the same time.
01:43:45So barry beach's credibility is more than a little suspect.
01:43:51>> But beach's defense team, when it came their turn, gently led beach through the confession process.
01:43:59>> At some point in time I break weak and I made the biggest mistake of my life by breaking weak.
01:44:07>> And when you say you broke weak, what are you talking about?
01:44:09>> They broke me.
01:44:10I just wanted out of there.
01:44:10And I didn't care what it took to get out of there.
01:44:12I didn't want to go through what alfred calhoun told me.
01:44:17Alfred calhoun told me he would watch me fry in the electric chair, and I didn't want to go through that.
01:44:25>> Were you down at the park on the evening or the early morning HOURS OF JUNE 16th, 1979, WHEN Kim was killed?
01:44:29>> No, I was not.
01:44:31I had no involvement with kim nees' murder whatsoever.
01:44:35>> But beach, it turned out, was not the final witness.
01:44:37Now there was a surprise.
01:44:41Remember, during his original trial, beach said he was at home asleep when the murder occurred but didn't have anybody to vouch for his alibi, until now, 28 years later.
01:44:53>> Is this the first time you have ever got the chance to give any kind of public testimony about what you observed on the NIGHT OF JUNE 15th, 1979?
01:45:02>> It is.
01:45:02>> Her name is barbara salinda, a 47-year-old former youth counselor and mother from california, and barry beach's sister.
01:45:12And with beach looking on, in tears, his sister told the board that despite her late appearance, she told the same story from day one.
01:45:21Barry was right where he said he was the night of the murder, at home.
01:45:26>> So when I went upstairs, i was able to see by the light that barry was in his bedroom.
01:45:30He was in bed asleep.
01:45:32>> Was his bedroom door open?
01:45:33>> Yes.
01:45:35We all slept with our bedroom doors open.
01:45:37>> About what time was that?
01:45:40>> I would say it was about 12:40.
01:45:42>> Why wait so long to tell her story?
01:45:45Well, she didn't.
01:45:46She claimed.
01:45:48Back then, she said she told the sheriff and she told barry's original defense attorney what she had seen, but she wasn't allowed to testify at trial because she was barry's sister.
01:45:59Nobody would believe her.
01:46:00Would they now?
01:46:03>> Any time a family member comes forward and provides an alibi, there's bound to be skepticism, but barry's sister presented herself to the board, exposed herself to cross-examination.
01:46:14Her demeanor was examined.
01:46:18She gave a very complete, very credible story.
01:46:20>> Not surprisingly, the former prosecutor saw it quite differently.
01:46:25>> His attempt to have his sister testify at the clemency hearing providing an alibi that she never mentioned for 25 years I think convinces the character and quality of the case that was presented by centurion.
01:46:47That's why I say I don't question their motives.
01:46:48I don't question their hearts but I do question their competency and the quality of the investigation.
01:46:51>> The innocence phase was over but barry beach didn't have to be innocent to be released from prison, and the board was about to hear a ground swell of support for setting him free.
01:46:59>>> Coming up -- >> I'm just here to ask you to find in your hearts to recommend parole for barry.
01:47:06>> The parole board makes its decision, and I unanimous.
01:47:14When "the killing at poplar river" continues.
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01:50:26>>> Here in this nondescript square room in a montana prison the state board of pardons and paroles was making history.
01:50:34Never before had a man in barry beach's position been given such an opportunity to make his case for freedom.
01:50:41After so many years in prison.
01:50:43Remember, the board could recommend that montana's governor pardon beach, commute his sentence, make him eligible for parole, relieve beach of montana state prison probably forever.
01:50:55>> We will reconvene the beach clemency hearing.
01:50:59>> One last thing.
01:51:00The board would open a second hearing to listen to people.
01:51:04Ordinary people who wanted to talk about barry beach.
01:51:07And to make personal pleas for his release.
01:51:10>> He said, you need to concentrate on my voice, I'm going to get you out of this -- >> there was the female prison guard who told of nearly passing out on the cell block once.
01:51:20She came to thank beach who she said protected her from what could have been unspeakable harm.
01:51:26>> I owe that to him, and that's a debt I could never pay, no matter what I do.
01:51:30>> Then, a virtual who's who of montanans.
01:51:34A former state senator, who said beach helped quell tensions during a near riot.
01:51:40The chief actuary for montana state fund, who met beach in prison ministry.
01:51:44>> I would have no problem with him staying overnight in my home.
01:51:49>> Childhood friends, also ready to take responsibility for beach's life after prison.
01:51:53>> If he needed a place to stay, he could always come stay with me.
01:51:56>> I would be honored to have him come visit us and stay with us.
01:52:01When he gets out.
01:52:04>> Witness after witness.
01:52:06Even the former mayor of the town of poplar showed up with a plea.
01:52:11>> I'm just here to ask you to find in your hearts to recommend parole for barry as I do believe it is the town's feeling that it's time.
01:52:26>> And finally, a surprise witness.
01:52:29Pam johnson, the victim's sister, barry beach's one-time girlfriend, who'd always harbored doubts about the conviction.
01:52:38Still after all these years unable to believe.
01:52:42>> She's not emotionally capable of speaking right now, so I'd just like to read just what she wrote last night.
01:52:51Barry and I were close friends years ago, and I honestly believe that barry did not kill my sister.
01:52:59Finding the truth will set barry free, as he should be.
01:53:03And that's from her heart.
01:53:06>> Have been heard.
01:53:07>> Minutes later the unprecedented hearing was history.
01:53:10>> This hearing stands in adjournment.
01:53:13>> And barry beach was cuffed and shackled, temporarily, at least, for his return to the montana state prison.
01:53:20Would it be the last time?
01:53:23>> Never give up until I walk out.
01:53:28The truth is there.
01:53:30And the truth is is I did not kill her.
01:53:35>> Beach's mother, dreams of her son's release were consuming her.
01:53:39>> Will take a while for both of us to catch our breath, I'm sure.
01:53:43>> But you imagine the moment?
01:53:45>> It's impossible to not do.
01:53:4724 Years is a long time to wait for that.
01:53:50>> But for the sheriff who put beach behind bars, any decision by montana's board of pardons and paroles to offer beach clemencies, or commute his life without parole sentence would be devastating.
01:54:04>> If they vacate the judgment, it says that your belief in the veracity of that confession was false.
01:54:10>> No, what it says is that someone else killed kimberly.
01:54:15And no one else killed kimberly.
01:54:18>> Your confidence is overwhelming.
01:54:21>> Good.
01:54:22>> And then silence.
01:54:25The week went by.
01:54:25No decision.
01:54:26Then two.
01:54:27After three weeks of private deliberation behind closed doors, the board of pardons and paroles issued an e-mail.
01:54:36They had reached a decision and it was unanimous.
01:54:38In the matter of barry beach, the answer was no.
01:54:42No pardon.
01:54:43No commutation.
01:54:45No clemency.
01:54:46No parole.
01:54:49Barry beach stays in prison for life.
01:54:53No appeal.
01:54:55>> My initial reaction was one of utter disbelief.
01:54:59>> For the ministries it was quite simply stunning.
01:55:03Didn't buy a single one of your arguments?
01:55:07>> Not one.
01:55:08We brought forward in both hearings 34 witnesses, and we were zero for 34 in the board's eyes.
01:55:16>> Cencharion believed they proved beach's confession was false, but the board called it, quote, as compelling with fingerprints and keeping with the evidence.
01:55:30He pointed out none of the physical evidence like footprints or the palm print connected beach to the crime, but the board wrote there was no reason to believe the footprints are in any way connected to this murder.
01:55:42And said the telltale bloody palm print had little probative value.
01:55:49He presented witnesses that offered evidence kim niece was killed by a group of girls.
01:55:54The board called their testimony a mor fuss statement and said