CS Masthead

Kindergarten Cop


Montana Highway Patrol trooper Nyle Obergfell, a Culbertson High School graduate, lets kindergartner Kalia Featherston try on his vest that does not quite fit her during a recent visit to a kindergarten classroom at Culbertson School.  (Submitted photo)

Bullock’s Executive Order Frees Barry Beach


Hours after Montana Gov. Steve Bullock commuted his sentence, Barry Beach gives his mother, Bobbie Clincher, a hug in Billings Friday, Nov. 20.

Barry Beach’s family will be truly thankful when they gather in Laurel for Thanksgiving dinner. The long-incarcerated Beach will be joining them.
The former Poplar resident walked out of Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge a free man Friday, Nov. 20, following months of speculation after the passage of legislation granting Gov. Steve Bullock clemency powers.
After three decades of legal wrangling, Beach’s long campaign for freedom came to an end with Bullock issuing an executive order that freed him at noon Friday. It allows him to resume his life, but is less than a pardon. Bullock commuted Beach’s sentence to time served, an additional 10 years suspended with 10 years probation under the supervision of the Montana Department of Corrections.
Beach remains convicted of the June 1979 murder of Poplar High School classmate Kimberly Nees, a crime he has maintained his innocence of for 36 years.
Bullock’s executive order cites that Beach was a juvenile when Nees was killed and that he demonstrated that he is capable of living a productive life with respect for society’s rules during the 18 months he was free between 2011 and 2013. The executive order also cites that three psychological reports conclude that Beach is likely to successfully transition back into society.
“I’m a little bit more than happy. Stunned and surprised actually. It’s an absolute miracle. Never in the history of Montana State Prison has this ever happened this way,” Beach told The Herald-News Sunday.
“Today is probably the first day I’ve had time to get business done,” he said. That included cleaning his house and shopping.
Beach said he would comply with conditions of his probation Monday and Tuesday by meeting with his probation officer and registering as a violent offender, a condition added to his probation because he remains legally convicted of murder.
Despite that, he said, “I’m enjoying freedom.
“We’re going to have an awesome Thanksgiving,” Beach said.
He said it is unlikely he would ever visit Poplar or Wolf Point.
“I have nothing in Wolf Point or Poplar that I have left. I have no desire to go back there,” Beach said.
“I have a life to live. I fought for 32 years to live my life,” he said.
“I’m just thankful to be where I’m at today. It’s a true miracle of God to be here today. They can never take me back,” Beach said.
During 17 months of freedom between 2011 and 2013 while waiting for a new trial he never got, Beach worked as a maintenance man at the Clocktower Inn in Billings.
Beach’s mother, Bobbi Clincher, 75, of Laurel said Friday the hotel’s owner held the job for him.
“His job is waiting for him. His boss was so good to keep his job for him,” she said.
Beach said he plans to eventually return to the job at the hotel.
His attorneys, Peter Camiel of Seattle, Wash., who has represented him for about nine years, and Jim McCloskey of Centurion Ministries, a Princeton, N.J., investigative agency that has freed more than 50 wrongly-convicted people from prisons and accepted Beach’s case about 15 years ago, were at the prison to pick him up. Beach carried a clothes basket full of personal items and said he would not return to prison when he got into a Chevrolet Suburban with Camiel and McCloskey. They drove him to Billings, with a first stop at his mother’s home in Laurel for a short visit.
Beach had to be in Billings before 5 p.m., to report to a probation officer. From there, they drove him to his house, also in Billings.
Beach, now 53, languished in Montana State Prison for most of the 31 years since the late Judge James Sorte sentenced him in 17th District Court in Glasgow to a 100-year term in the custody of the Montana Department of Corrections without the possibility of parole on May 11, 1984, at age 22. Beach was charged with deliberate homicide in 15th District Court at Wolf Point in September 1983. The venue was changed to Glasgow, where a jury convicted him based on a confession that Beach has retracted and said was coerced with aggressive tactics by investigators in Louisiana.
Now retired Fergus County District Judge E. Wayne Phillips ordered a new trial following a three-day evidentiary hearing in Lewistown in December 2011 and temporarily freed Beach on his own recognizance. Phillips ordered a new trial based on witness testimony that Nees died in a fight with other teenage girls and young women. A 4-3 decision by the Montana Supreme Court in May 2013 vacated the lower court order for a new trial resulting in Beach having to return to Montana State Prison. He surrendered himself to the custody of the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office on May 15, 2013, after 17 months of freedom. Beach remained incarcerated for another 2 ½ years until Bullock issued the executive order freeing him. In all, Beach was imprisoned in the maximum-security penal facility for exactly 30 years. In addition, he served several months in the Roosevelt County Jail and in a jail in Louisiana prior to April 1984.
Bullock’s executive order cites that Beach was a juvenile when Nees was killed and that he demonstrated that he is capable of living a productive life with respect for society’s rules during the 18 months he was free between 2011 and 2013. The executive order also cites that three psychological reports conclude that Beach is likely to successfully transition back into society.
Bullock had remained mum about clemency for Beach since he penned his signature to House Bill 43 in April, which granted him and future Montana governors final authority in clemency decisions, even if the Board of Pardons and Parole previously denied clemency applications. HB 43 went into effect Oct. 1, making Montana the 43rd state to grant final clemency powers to governors.
Speculation that the governor would grant clemency for Beach centered in part on a letter Bullock wrote to the parole board in April 2014 saying he believed Beach deserved an opportunity for rehabilitation outside of prison. At the time, a clemency application was pending.
The parole board denied that application and three others in 1994, 2005 and 2007.
Despite being convicted of a crime that occurred when he was a juvenile, Beach served more prison time than the average adult sentence.
Beach’s attorneys filed a new clemency application with the parole board in October, because the seven-member panel must still decide whether to hear a prisoner’s case and make a ruling before the governor can grant clemency. The board, in a statement, said it reached a unanimous decision that the new application was substantively similar to a previous application that was denied, and forwarded the application to the Governor’s Office on Oct. 29.
In May, the Montana Supreme Court denied a petition Beach’s attorneys filed in October 2014 with a 4-3, 68-page decision. The petition sought re-sentencing based on the constitutionality of the 100-year sentence without eligibility for parole because it was for a crime that occurred when Beach was a juvenile.
“I’m just so ecstatic and I’m so thankful to everyone for their prayers and support, and to the governor, and to the legislators for getting the ball rolling,” Clincher told The Herald-News about an hour after her son was released.
Clincher said her son was not aware that Bullock was going to free him for Thanksgiving until a little after 7 a.m. Friday, about five hours before Bullock signed the executive order.
“I have so much to be thankful for,” Clincher said.
“He wants the turkey drumstick and the turkey neck,” she said.
“It’s been a long haul. It really has,” Clincher said.
A large number of people — local and non-local — have called for Beach’s release from prison. They include many people in Wolf Point and Poplar, supporters statewide in and out of state government, including a group that has frequently walked the bridge at 1st Avenue North and 10th Avenue South in Great Falls.
Bumper stickers that say “Free Barry Beach” are occasionally seen on cars in Wolf Point and Poplar, and across Montana.
A high-profile bipartisan mix of Montanans calling for Beach’s release have included U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, former U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns and former Secretary of State Bob Brown.
A few months ago, State Rep. Margie MacDonald, D-Billings, who carried HB 43 to the floor, and 35 other legislators signed a letter that she composed to Bullock asking him to grant clemency for Beach.
Several Republican senators and representatives also wrote to Bullock and recommended that he commute the sentence to time served.

Barry Beach Talks; Ponders Theories About Nees Murder

Convicted murder Barry Beach was enjoying freedom over the past weekend with an opportunity to resume his life with less than a pardon. Gov. Steve Bullock commuted Beach’s sentence to time served, an additional 10 years suspended with 10 years probation under the supervision of the Montana Department of Corrections.
Hoping to one day clear his name, Beach remains convicted of the June 1979 murder of a Poplar High School classmate, a crime he has maintained his innocence of for 36 years. He was a juvenile at the time Kimberly Nees was beaten to death and left in the Poplar River near the railroad bridge just north of U.S. Hwy. 2.
Meanwhile, there are new rumors circulating locally about the case.
Some local people are saying “Poplar is blowing up” over speculation about the Nees murder with comments and Facebook posts.
Fort Peck Tribes Department of Law and Justice supervisory criminal investigator Ken Trottier said he is aware of it and has looked at Facebook posts.
“If someone came forward with credible information, we would definitely look into it,” Trottier said Monday, Nov. 23.
“Right now there’s just tons and tons of speculation,” It’s hard sorting out speculation and rumor and what might be the truth,” he said.
“Some of the people accused of being involved are now deceased,” Trottier said.
He said tribal investigators did some investigative work on the case about four years ago. He did not elaborate.
Nees died from extensive skull fractures and lacerations of the brain wrought by more than 20 blunt force impact injuries to the head and neck, according to the autopsy report. That reports states that she was likely struck with a crescent wrench and hammer, giving hint to the possibility that more than one person might have been involved.
Beach’s fate has attracted national attention, being twice featured on Dateline NBC. After the national news magazine first probed Beach’s case in April 2008, with “The Killing at Poplar River,” a two-hour investigation narrated by Keith Morrison, new witnesses came forward bringing what has been called the “girls theory” into the spotlight.
The previous year, The Missoulian reported that witnesses lent credence to rumors that several girls killed Nees.
Also casting doubt over Beach’s conviction are claims made since 1984 by several people saying they witnessed people other than Beach killing Nees and some women saying they were involved in the murder, possibly lending credibility to the “girls theory.”
In his executive order, Bullock did not weigh in on whether he believed Beach is innocent or not and has not commented further on the issue.
Many people locally, across the state and the nation believe Beach is innocent.
Beach responded to numerous accounts of several people in Poplar talking about the murder during the two days between his release on Friday and Sunday afternoon when he talked to The Herald-News. He did not talk about individuals who might have been involved in the murder of Nees and he did not comment specifically about the “girls theory.”
“Everyone in Poplar knows who killed her. Now they want to come out with information after Centurion Ministries has been trying to exonerate me for 15 years,” Beach said.
Centurion Ministries, a Princeton, N.J., investigative agency that has freed more than 50 wrongly-convicted people from prisons and accepted Beach’s case about 15 years ago.
“I look at the life God has given me and I look at the life they are living. They are living a far worse life than I have lived the last 32 years,” Beach said.
He said he would like to clear his name but he did not know if that would happen.
“I think that’s something I’m going to fast and pray about,” Beach said, and added, “I don’t think the state of Montana will let that happen.”
He acknowledged that the state would not have jurisdiction of any investigation of tribal members and that it would be the jurisdiction of the Fort Peck Tribes Department of Law and Justice and federal authorities.
Tribal officers found a pick-up truck Nees had been driving abandoned at a spot near the Poplar River about 7 a.m. the morning after she was killed. Officers found blood inside the cab, more than two dozen fingerprints, three sets of footprints in and around the trail where Nees was dragged and a bloody palm print on the truck that the FBI concluded could belong to the killer.
Of the bloody palm print, Beach said he would like to get that to a federal level.
“Whatever the situation may be, God used my life to change the system,” Beach said.
Beach has never wavered on his assertion of innocence and has maintained that his confession was coerced with abusive tactics by investigators from the Ouachita Parish, La. Sheriff’s Office when he was 20 years old and living with his father in Monroe, La., after he had served in the U.S. Navy. Monroe Police had arrested him on a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor after his stepmother — believing he was encouraging her daughter to run away — had him arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and told Louisiana authorities that Roosevelt County Sheriff’s investigators had questioned him about the Nees case in 1979. Beach was one of many young people Roosevelt County Sheriff’s investigators interviewed about the case in 1979.
A tape of the allegedly coerced confession was erased in Louisiana.
The Dateline transcript has former Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s detective John “Jay” Via saying, “My feeling from talking to Sheriff [Dean] Mahlum was the fact that [Beach] was a viable suspect.”
Mahlum was Roosevelt County’s undersheriff in 1979 and led the investigation. He was serving as sheriff at the time of Beach’s trial in 1984.
Via and Commander Alfred Calhoun are alleged to have interrogated Beach for seven hours continuously with no food. Beach told Dateline NBC that Louisiana detectives yelled at him during the interrogation, threatened him with the electric chair with graphic details about what happens to a human body during electrocution and became very accusatory about unrelated murders of three Louisiana women, later proven to have occurred at times when Beach was not in that area.
Beach’s attorney Peter Camiel of Seattle, Wash., who has represented him for about nine years, told The Herald News in April 2014 that he has Via’s personnel file that includes allegations of inaccurate documenting and numerous suspensions for misconduct.
Both Dateline and the Great Falls Tribune reported in 2013 that Via had been suspended without pay on at least four occasions and had been placed on a one-year probation. Via is now retired,
Dateline reported that investigators working for Beach’s defense found evidence alleging that the Poplar Police Department fed information to Louisiana detectives that ended up in a transcript used during Beach’s trial in place of the missing tape recording.
Allegations of a cover-up have also complicated the case. An evidence room of what was then the Poplar Police Department was broken into the day after Nees was killed, making crucial evidence inadmissible in court.
Dateline NBC and other media reported that Poplar’s police chief said shortly before the trial began that someone deliberately kicked down the door of the evidence room where crime scene evidence was stored the night after the murder.
Camiel told The Herald-News in April 2014: “One of the concerns is one of the women who we think was involved; her father was a policeman at the time and her father was the one who broke into the evidence room. It is proven. He admitted he did that and has given testimony that he did that.”
Dateline and other media sources identified the person who broke into the evidence room as Poplar Police officer Steve Gray Hawk, the father of Maude Gray Hawk, a then teenage girl who was a person of interest in the case.
A request by attorneys for Beach to have an expert look at the Montana Crime Lab’s records was denied.
Some evidence in the case was also missing from the state crime lab.
Marc Racicot, who served as governor from 1993 to 2001, was an assistant attorney general in 1984 and was appointed special prosecutor for the state’s case against Beach.
Dateline reported that Racicot told jurors to ignore all the evidence police had contaminated.
Dateline’s Morrison asked Camiel, “Are you saying that the 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?”
Camiel’s responded, “There was misconduct.”

Helicopter Used In Capture After High-Speed Chase Ends Near Froid

A Plentywood man who authorities say fled after a traffic stop by a Montana Highway Patrol trooper in Sheridan County took several law enforcement agencies on a high-speed chase through two counties that ended in a field near Froid Friday, Nov. 20.
Roosevelt County Sheriff’s office chief deputy Corey Reum said Adam Stephan, 42, of Plentywood took deputies from Roosevelt and Sheridan counties, the MHP and U.S. Border Patrol agents in vehicles and a helicopter on a pursuit at high speeds over gravel roads south to the Froid area, then west on Montana Secondary 344, where Reum arrested Stephan in a field just feet from the bridge that would have put them on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.
“The highway patrolman disabled his car chasing the guy on the gravel roads,” Reum said.
Reum said Stephan was driving an early 90s Geo Metro station wagon. His wife and a dog were with him. The wife was not arrested.
“He had a blowout. That’s why he ditched the car,” he said.
Stephan ran in a field with his wife and dog.
Reum boarded the helicopter.
“The helicopter dropped off me and a Border Patrol agent in a field and the helicopter went up in the air and gave us aerial coverage as we advanced on him and we apprehended him in the tall weeds,” Reum said.
Stephan was booked into the Roosevelt County Jail. Charges are pending.

Past Roosevelt County 4-H’er Recognized For 50 Years Of Service


Gwen Clark Roffler, originally from Froid and a past 4-H member of Roosevelt County, was honored for 50 years of leadership to McKenzie County, N.D., 4-H this past week. Mc-Kenzie County 4-H Council president Shannon Faller (left) congratulated Roffler for 50 years of service to 4-H and presented a plaque to her. (Submitted photo)

Gwen Clark Roffler, formerly of Froid and now of Grassy Butte, N.D., was honored for 50 years of leadership to 4-H at the 62nd annual McKenzie County [N.D.] 4-H Awards and Recognition Program Saturday, Nov. 14, in Grassy Butte.
Roffler has been a wife, mother, grandmother, friend, teacher, rancher and passionate 4-H leader.
Her involvement with 4-H began in 1952 as her mother, Lida Ann Clark, of Froid, embarked upon her 25 years of volunteer service to 4-H.
Roffler was an aspiring associate 4-H member at age nine in her mother’s new club, the Froid Sunbeams. She was a member of this club for 12 years. Her 4-H projects included gardening, clothing, home improvement, horse, sheep and junior leadership. She received numerous awards including top sheep showman, medals awarded in sheep, clothing, garden, foods, a $25 savings bond, delegate to Montana State 4-H Congress and Citizenship Washington Focus.
Also, as a child, Roffler participated in community recreational dances, Rural Life Sunday, citizenship programs and hamburger fries.
Roffler’s aspiration after high school was to be a teacher. She went on to attend Williston State College for two years and then transferred to Minot State College for one year.
She married Malcom Roffler on June 27, 1965, and landed a job at the Grassy Butte School where she served as an educator for four years. Roffler enjoyed teaching kindergarten and grades 3 and 4. This ambitious woman also started an elementary science fair for rural school children. While she was teaching, she was also active in the Young Citizens League and was the YCL county president. Her YCL students won top awards with their projects. Ranching with her husband was limited to weekends and summers.
She decided to stop teaching upon the birth of her first child. A son, Jeff, was born to in 1970. A daughter, Teresa, was born in 1974.
Roffler and her family are strong believers in range management and were selected as North Dakota Range Managers of the Year in 1992.
Roffler became the Sagebrush Ranglers 4-H Club main leader in 1965. She and her husband started the club seven years earlier.
She enacted a rule that completion of record books was mandatory as record keeping and organizational skills have always been very important to her. This club rule has resulted in many members winning state and national award trips.  As club leader Gwen would make sure that the kids would have a 4-H demonstration prepared for each meeting.  She would diligently help the children with their 4-H projects during meetings and would not hesitate to help anyone at home between meetings.
From the 1960’s to 1980’s Roffler would work with club members to make floats and banners and to organize a 4-H promotional booth for the county fair.
She would take her club beyond the community — organizing field trips to historical sites in the area and statewide as fun, learning experiences. An example would be a fun day in Medora, N.D.
The Sagebrush Ranglers was recognized as the Mc
Kenzie County Club of the Year in 1979.
In 2008, the Sagebrush Ranglers 4-H Club was 50 years old. Roffler spearheaded the making of a 4-H Club cookbook of which 1,000 copies were sold. The books consisted of recipes and memories of current and former 4-H families as well as 4-H history and goals. The books have been sold throughout North Dakota and into other states.  Earnings have been used to buy supplies for lessons and trips and for 4-H events.
She received many 4-H awards and recognitions over the years.
This past year, Roffler was nominated to be recognized as North Dakota Country Woman of the Year by the Farm and Ranch Guide. She was one of six finalists for this honor.