Written by John Plestina
Pictured are Barry Beach during the time he was free in 2012 and Kim Nees in an undated photo taken during the 1970s.
Former Poplar resident Barry Beach might have to wait one or two more weeks before he learns whether the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole will grant him a full clemency hearing. He has asked the board to commute his 100-year sentence with no eligibility for parole so he could become eligible for a shortened sentence and parole.
A three-member panel of the seven-member board reviewed Beach’s clemency application in Deer Lodge Tuesday, April 29, the first step toward possible clemency.
Attorneys Terrance Toavs of Wolf Point and Peter Camiel of Seattle, Wash., called for advancing the clemency process during the April 29 hearing, arguing that Beach should be eligible for parole because young offenders who are convicted of homicides that occurred when they were juveniles can no longer be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole under a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Twenty of the more than 60 people who attended the hearing testified in favor of clemency for Beach, citing that he was a productive member of society and displayed good character during about 18 months that followed when he was freed in 2011 awaiting a new trial. A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2013 overturned a Montana District Court decision allowing a new trial, sending him back to prison.
Beach, now 52, was 22 years old when he was convicted of a crime that occurred when he was 17. Thirty years ago, young offenders convicted of homicides that occurred when they were juveniles could be sentenced to life terms without the possibility of parole and 100-year-terms that amount to lifetime incarceration.
Gov. Steve Bullock wrote a letter asking the board to focus on Beach’s worthiness for parole and not on whether he is guilty or innocent just days before the board considered Beach’s request.
Former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, the special prosecutor who got the murder conviction against Beach, told the Great Falls Tribune during early May that the state parole board should reject Beach’s recent bid for clemency. He sent a letter to the board.
While the parole board was scheduled to release its findings on the hearing held more than five weeks ago within 30 days of the hearing date, it had not done so.
“It was our intention to get it done in 30 days. We are still working on it,” Parole Board director Fern Johnson said Thursday, May 29, and explained that the board is not legally bound to a 30-day time limit. “Except to post it within 21 days of making it.”
She added, “I think we’ve gotten two of the three (individual decisions). We got one last night.”
Johnson speculated at that time that a decision could have been about two weeks from being released, which would be next week.
“Best case scenario; we get the decision next week and we snail mail it to our members around the state,” she said.
“Mr. Beach gets the decision first (before the media), Johnson said.
Beach was convicted in 17th District Court in Glasgow in April 1984 of the 1979 beating death of Kim Nees of Poplar.
Beach and numerous others have maintained innocence for decades. He has said for 35 years that he was not present when Nees was killed.
Questions linger over accounts of people, who say they were witnesses, that a group of teenage girls killed Nees and dumped her body in the Poplar River. An evidence room in the Poplar Police Station was broken into and evidence was compromised shortly after the murder. A then police officer, who is the father of a young woman who some people have claimed was involved, admitted to breaking into the evidence room.
Written by John Plestina
Thirty four of the 40 students in the 2013-2014 preschool class at Southside Elementary School before the start of the school day, Monday, June 2. Classes end Thursday, June 5. This is the last Wolf Point School District preschool class until at least August 2015, and possibly later. Pictured with the children in the back row (from left to right) are preschool aide Leann Smith, teacher Jennifer Medicine Cloud, aide Angela Bates and bus driver Dave Allen. (Photo by John Plestina)
The Wolf Point School board cut the preschool program and approved $296,309 in additional cuts, including teachers and other jobs, during a special meeting Wednesday, May 28.
Offsetting financial woes, the board followed most recommendations the district’s finance committee made one week earlier.
Before the trustees voted on the recommended cuts as a package, board chairman Martin DeWitt suggested that the board address each of eight recommendations from the finance committee individually.
Cutting the preschool program, which is largely funded by federal Title VII funds, saves district annual costs of about $120,000.
DeWitt voted against cutting the preschool program.
“In my opinion, this is something we need to keep,” he said.
One issue he cited was that the Indian Education Committee would not sign off on a grant if the district did not keep the preschool.
There are five people serving on the IEC.
Questions were raised by the board of whether a small group of people should be able to control a major decision that impacts the school district. Outdated bylaws of the IEC and failure to post the time and locations of some meetings were also cited.
“In some ways, it’s holding our board hostage,” DeWitt said.
The board voted 4-1 to cut the preschool program, with DeWitt being the dissenting vote.
Other budget cuts included athletic and extra-curricular spending cuts totaling $51,050 and fee increases totaling between $23,000 and $24,500.
The board approved developing a co-op contract with Frontier Elementary School for junior high sports for an estimated savings of $8,500. That includes charging Frontier a $400 fee per sport totaling $2,800 and splitting travel costs with Frontier to scheduled events for a cost savings of $5,200.
If Frontier does not accept the terms, the Wolf Point School District would discontinue allowing Frontier students to participate in Wolf Point Junior High School athletics.
Frontier district superintendent Christine Eggar told The Herald-News the next day that she was not aware of the changes that might impact her district.
“I did not know that, but the discussion about combining the sixth-grade volleyball and basketball was mentioned before,” Eggar said.
She said nothing had been brought to Frontier’s board or administration. Eggar said she would request a meeting with Paine.
In other changes, the board approved an increase in the combined pay-to-play and student activity card that includes all games and music concerts from $80 to $100 for the school year for an anticipated $13,000 profit to the school district. Adult school year activity fees will increase from $50 to $70.
Parents and others attending all sports, music and other activities in the schools will be charged a fee for an anticipated profit for the school district of $6,500.
“There’s not much to do in Wolf Point on a cold winter night except go to a ballgame,” Paine said.
The trustees also approved a change where pep band travel to away tournaments would only be permitted on Fridays and Saturdays for an estimated savings of $3,500 to $5,000.
The district would continue to host an opening weekend basketball tournament in December for a profit savings of about $20,000.
The board also cut milk servings to one milk served per meal for a savings of $37,759. Pre-paid punch cards will be available for extra milk purchases.
Also cut was the length of extended contracts for a savings of $4,500.
The board cut a Northside Elementary School teaching position for a savings of about $55,000 and a Southside Elementary School teaching position for an additional savings of about $55,000.
The recommendation from the finance committee was that the eliminated Southside position would have been the speech and language teacher. The board left it open as to which position would be eliminated.
The board tabled a decision on that position until all other cuts were addressed.
Paine said if the speech and language teaching position is eliminated, the district would retain the speech-language pathologist and an aide position.
The board also cut a junior high elective for a savings of about $55,000. The elective is already in place for next year.
A Southside classified non-teaching position was also cut for a savings of about $38,000.
The cuts became necessary after voters rejected a $200,000 continuous elementary general fund levy the school district said was necessary to keep the preschool program running after the current school year and a $250,000 levy that would have run for one year only and would have increased the building reserve and provided funding for parking lot and gym floor repairs at the high school. The elementary general fund levy failed by two votes, 392-390.
Following voter rejection of two levies and substantial legal fees the district incurred from a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union that resulted in mandated redistricting before trustees are elected next year necessitated the cuts.
During a school board meeting Tuesday, May 13, the trustees discussed options that included possible teaching and non-teaching staff layoffs and the elimination of tournaments hosted at Wolf Point High School that don’t involve the Wolf Point Wolves until funding is available to repair the gym floor. On Wednesday, May 28, the board did not eliminate tournaments from the high school gym, but did increase athletic fees, including pay-to-play.
A U.S. District Court judge recently ordered the Wolf Point High School District and Roosevelt County pay $68,793 each to the American Civil Liberties Union for court fees and costs in the settlement of the lawsuit that redistricts the board of school trustees. That is not including legal and court fees the district incurred fighting the suit.
The federal court order stems from a consent decree, or settlement, approved by a federal magistrate in April, after the ACLU filed a motion for summary judgment that mandates the district to reduce the number of school board members to six, creating five districts with nearly the same number of residents and one at-large position.
It came about as a result of a lawsuit the ACLU filed in August 2013 on grounds that voting districts used to elect trustees were apportioned in violation of one person, one vote. The ACLU argued that school district elections favored white voters in the district with a majority of Native American enrollments.
Written by John Plestina
Great Northern Development Corporation will receive $600,000 in Brownfield funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It is part of $1.4 million the EPA is distributing in Montana to clean up and redevelop contaminated sites.
GNDC will use the funds to conduct environmental assessments on at least 27 properties in the 15 counties GNDC serves.
GNDC’s Brownfield Coalition partners include the Eastern Plains Economic Development Corporation and the Southeast Montana Development Corporation. Projects will focus on small, rural communities and will be used to prioritize, assess and clean up various types of properties, including former gas stations and automotive facilities, lumber mills and wood treatment facilities, and meth labs.
GNDC executive director Mart-
in DeWitt said owners of properties that might qualify as Brownfield sites should contact GNDC.
He said it would take two to three months for the funding to be in place.
DeWitt said the Gysler Furniture and Appliance fire site is not likely to benefit from the $600,000 grant because of the timeframe and the urgency to clean up the downtown Wolf Point site.
“It’s a nice size property with a lot of potential,” DeWitt said.
Written by John Plestina
An attempt to pass a tractor trailer on U.S. Hwy. 2 about one mile west of Poplar left two men hospitalized Wednesday, May 28.
The Montana Highway Patrol reported that a westbound 2004 Pontiac Grand Am attempted to overtake and pass a 1996 Kenworth tractor pulling a belly dump trailer that was in the process of making a left hand turn into a private driveway at about 11:30 a.m.
MHP Sgt. Jeff Kent said a 17-year-old Wolf Point male was driving the Grand Am. He was cited for careless driving, driving without a license and no insurance, Kent said. The only passenger was a 40-year-old Wolf Point male.
Both were transported by ambulance to Northeast Montana Health Services - Poplar Campus with non-life-threatening injuries.
Kent said both were wearing seatbelts, which might have minimized injuries.
The truck driver, a 31-year-old Poplar male, was not injured and was not cited.
Written by Herald-News
A stabbing left a 30-year-old Wolf Point man seriously injured Saturday, May 31.
Wolf Point Police were called to the 300 block of Fairweather Street at about 3:35 a.m.
Police Jeff Harada said the victim was stabbed in the chest, transported by ambulance to Northeast Montana Health Services - Wolf Point Campus. From there, he was flown to a Billings hospital for medical care. His name and condition were not made public.
Officers arrested John Yellow Robe Jr., 34, of Wolf Point, for aggravated assault and referred him to tribal court for prosecution.