- Written by John Plestina
Former Poplar resident Barry Beach’s freedom might have been legislated in the halls of the Montana State Capital with the passage of House Bill 43 that Gov. Steve Bullock penned his signature to less than two weeks ago, granting him final authority in clemency decisions.
The new law that will take effect Oct. 15 will grant the Montana governor clemency powers similar to those held by a majority of governors and allow the governor to release state prisoners, even if the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole previously denied clemency applications.
Currently, Montana’s Board of Pardons and Parole is one of only eight in the nation that have the final say on clemency petitions.
Bullock wrote to that board in April 2014, while a clemency application was pending for Beach, saying he believed Beach deserved an opportunity for rehabilitation outside of prison.
Bullock has not made a statement on pardoning Beach since the passage of HB43.
The measure passed the House in late January on a vote of 88-12 and passed the Senate unanimously March 20, after receiving a unanimous endorsement from the Senate Judiciary Committee in February.
Beach, 53, has languished in Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge for most of the last 31 years since he was sentenced in April 1984 at age 22 to a 100-year term without parole for a 1979 murder he was convicted of that happened in Poplar when he was 17. A court decision granting a new trial freed Beach for a little more than a year a few years ago, but a Supreme Court decision denied the new trial and sent Beach back to prison.
While October is the earliest that Bullock could pardon Beach, the Montana Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on a petition Beach’s attorneys filed in October 2014, asking that Beach be re-sentenced for his conviction of a 1979 beating death, a crime Beach denies any guilt for. Montana’s highest court heard arguments for Beach’s petition Feb. 4.
The central point of the hearing was not whether Beach killed Kim Nees nearly 36 years ago, but rather on the constitutionality of his 100-year sentence without eligibility for parole for a crime that occurred when he was a juvenile.
If that occurs, a likely outcome would be a decision to send the case back to district court for re-sentencing before 7th District Judge Katherine Bidegaray of Sidney.
Fifteenth District Judge David Cybulski recused himself from a hearing for Beach several years ago because he had denied a petition for post conviction relief and was reversed on appeal.
Beach has never wavered on his assertion of innocence in the 1979 murder of his Poplar High School classmate.
His 1984 conviction in 17th District Court in Glasgow was based on Beach confessing to the crime following an interrogation by investigators from a Louisiana sheriff’s office. He has maintained that the confession was coerced with aggressive tactics.
Other people have claimed responsibility for the murder and some have said they witnessed people other than Beach killing Nees.
In June 2014, the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole rejected an application for a full clemency hearing for Beach.
- Written by Culbertson Searchlight
(Editor’s Note: The Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office distributes an inmate roster each week with charges and communities of residence to The Herald-News and The Searchlight to help keep the public informed and to illustrate that the jail has been dealing with overcrowding issues in the 17-bed facility.)
As of Monday, April 6, 11 inmates were housed in the Roosevelt County Jail. Fort Benton Detention Center was holding one male to alleviate overcrowding.
The RCSO reported that the following individuals were incarcerated at the jail between Monday, March 30, and Monday, April 6:
•Joel Campos, 37, Las Cruces, N.M., felony possession of dangerous drugs;
•Jason Daugherty, 37, Wolf Point, criminal possession of dangerous drugs [two counts], criminal possession of drug paraphernalia, attempted assault on a peace officer or judicial officer, and resisting arrest;
•Vern Eagleman, 52, Poplar, out-of-county warrant;
•Mark Ebemeyer, 38, Eugene, Ore., obstructing a peace officer and out-of- county warrant;
•Joseph Laturell, 52, Bainville, partner/family member assault, sexual intercourse without consent and aggravated kidnapping;
•Darryl Lewis, 45, San Bernardino, Calif., criminal contempt warrant;
•Robert Lindquist, 41, Chattoroy, Wash., criminal possession of dangerous drugs, criminal possession of drug paraphernalia and driving under the influence;
•Daniel Morris, 35, Wheeling, W.V., contempt of court;
•Timothy Oglesby, 31, Wolf Point, sexual intercourse without consent and incest, awaiting sentencing;
•Billie Romo, 31, Bain-
ville, driving under the influence and following too closely;
•Wesley Stearns, 42, Havre, contempt of court;
•Brian Suggs, 33, Mesa, Ariz., driving under the influence, criminal endangerment, failure to carry proof of insurance, driving a motor vehicle while the privilege to do so is revoked and fail to stop immediately at property damage accident;
•Carroll Wells, 34, Fairview, felony theft and burglary;
•Jarod Weyrauch, 29, Wolf Point, fail to report violation.
- Written by Culbertson Searchlight
This little girl makes the Easter Egg blush at the Culbertson Easter Egg Hunt at Centennial Park Sunday, March 29. (Photo by Nancy Mahan)
- Written by John Plestina
Fort Peck Tribes Chairman A.T. “Rusty” Stafne (left), BIA regional director Darryl LaCounte and Dry Prairie board chairman Rick Knick of Culbertson display gifts from the Fort Peck Tribes after signing the water agreement. (Photo by John Plestina)
The Fort Peck Tribes, Culbertson-headquartered Dry Prairie Rural Water Authority and the Bureau of Indian Affairs signed an historic water agreement for the delivery of water from the Tribes’ intake and treatment facilities near Wolf Point to Dry Prairie customers throughout northeastern Montana at the tribal government offices in Poplar Tuesday, March 31.
The tribal and Dry Prairie water systems agreement is a result of more than two decades of work that resulted in a collaboration between the Sioux and Assiniboine tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation and their non-Indian neighbors. The systems will be connected later this spring as a result of this three-party agreement.
Once connected, the tribal intake and treatment facilities will begin supplying water to Dry Prairie at a delivery point near U.S. Hwy. 2 on the eastern side of the reservation. This eastern connection will allow Dry Prairie to immediately serve some 700 of its rural customers, as well as the communities of Culbertson, Bainville, Froid, Medicine Lake, Plentywood and Antelope.
In addition to the eastern connection point, tribal and Dry Prairie officials hope to establish connections between the two systems near Frazer later this year and then near Nashua during the upcoming year. The westernmost connection would allow Dry Prairie to deliver water from the tribal facilities to its customers west of the reservation. A third connection is also planned along the northern boundary of the reservation, near Montana Hwy. 251. Eventually, the combined rural water systems would consist of about 3,000 miles of water pipeline servicing approximately 30,000 residents throughout all of Roosevelt County, the eastern half of Valley County, and Sheridan and Daniels counties.
“This moment has been a long time coming,” Tom Escarcega, director of the Assiniboine and Sioux Rural Water System project, said.
Escarcega, who emceed the ceremony and signing event, has worked on the project since 1992.
“It’s truly a great thing when the Indian community works with the non-Indian community to make a good thing happen,” BIA regional director Darryl LaCounte of Billings said.
“This is a great example of what we can do together,” Dry Prairie board chairman Rick Knick of Culbertson said.
Knick, LaCounte and Fort Peck Tribal Chairman A.T. “Rusty” Stafne were the three signers of the agreement.
“This is a very important project for northeastern Montana. This is great for us,” Stafne said. “I think we are entering hard times. This project will make it easier for us.”
“We are very proud. This agreement represents decades of cooperation between the Tribes and its off-reservation partners, and is a first of its kind in Montana,” Stafne said in a prepared statement prior to the signing ceremony.
Sens. Steve Daines, R. Mont., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., and Gov. Steve Bullock were all invited to participate. Bullock, Daines and Tester sent representatives in their absence.
Congress authorized the two water projects in 2000 at 1998 costs of $193 million. That price tag is now estimated at $320 million. Daines said the project was about $150 million short during a visit to Poplar in May.
Dry Prairie Rural Water Authority is a municipal, industrial and rural water system for Roosevelt, Valley, Daniels and Sheridan counties outside the boundaries of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation that the conservation districts own in each of the counties. DPRWA brings Missouri River water to municipal water systems, rural households and livestock pasture taps.
The Fort Peck Tribal water system is operated by the Fort Peck Tribes and held in trust by the Department of Interior.
- Written by John Plestina
An unofficial straw poll taken by the Fort Peck Tribes Executive Board Thursday, March 26, put the brakes on the $33 million dollar Buffalo Rivers Casino & Lodge that was proposed to be built on a site near Fort Kipp.
The 8-2 vote against moving forward with the project was taken following a lengthy discussion that included concerns that a $29 million loan from the Shakopee Mdewankontan Tribe in Minnesota would be too expensive with a 6.5 percent interest rate. The cost to the tribes with interest would have been $44 million with steep monthly payments.
“It has to come to full board [on April 13],” executive board member Stacey Summers of Wolf Point said. She also said she expects the project to be formally voted down.
Summers said there will be discussions about a smaller casino project that would cost less money to build.
“The $29 million plus the 6½ percent interest; I just don’t see us making those payments,” Summers said.
Vice chairwoman Patricia Iron Cloud said she would delay any public comment until after the executive board takes a formal vote.
Information disseminated by Jamie Beskow, media director for James Dugan, a Sioux Falls, S.D., casino marketing firm, led to news stories in The Herald-News, Fort Peck Journal and Billings Gazette that the casino was going to be built. A date in June for a groundbreaking was given to The Herald-News.
The Herald-News contacted Beskow Wednesday, March 25. She said she was not aware the executive board had not approved the project.
Beskow said her company is affiliated with Arrowhead Consulting Group of Sioux Falls, which is also involved with the proposed project. Arrowhead Consulting Group is a casino staffing and training consultant, according to information on the internet.
Executive board members voting against proceeding with the casino project were Ed Bauer, Marva Firemoon, Charlie Headdress, Pearl Hopkins, Rick Kirn, Terry Rattling Thunder, Grant Stafne and Summers.
Garrett Big Leggins and Tom Christian voted in favor of the project as it was proposed.
Roxanne Gourneau abstained from voting.
In a second straw poll, council members voted 8-2 in favor of a possible smaller casino project and a more extensive feasibility study.
According to a press release from Beskow, the proposal called for a casino with a gaming floor with 400 video gaming machines and four poker tables, 75-room hotel, 150-person restaurant with a buffet, events center that would seat more than 400 people, a lounge that would accommodate live entertainment, snack bar and a gift shop.
Beskow’s press release also said the completed project would employ about 220 people.