More testimony alleges 1979 murder by girls from Ft. Peck 6-14-07

DEER LODGE, Mont. (AP) - Convicted murderer Barry Beach's claims of innocence were supported at a clemency hearing Thursday by two witnesses who linked the 1979 killing of Kim Nees on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation to a group of women.

Beach has served 20 years of a 100-year sentence for murdering Nees, 17. He says he didn't kill her and his confession to the crime was coerced.

A man testified he overheard a woman he worked with 20 years ago claim that she took part in the killing with two others. Then a woman told the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole that her sister-in-law recently told her she assisted in the crime.

Carl Four Star testified that he worked with a woman named Sissy Atkinson in the 1980s, shortly after Beach's 1984 conviction, and overheard Atkinson confess to the crime.

“She said that they got the wrong man, that Mr. Beach didn't have anything to do with it,” Four Star told the board. “She said herself, Rose and a person by the name of Maude were there and responsible for it.”

Four Star said Atkinson described bending over and hitting Nees.

“She looked at me and said, 'We got away with a perfect crime, a capital crime,”' Four Star said.

Atkinson denied Wednesday having any role in the murder.

She was backed up by one brother who was the acting police chief at the time of the killing - and disputed by another brother who has spent time in jail with Beach and believes Sissy Atkinson was involved.

Four Star said he did not come forward earlier with what he overhead because he does not trust tribal police on the reservation and he feared retribution.

“It's a different world on the reservation, sir,” Four Star said, explaining to a board member why he kept the information to himself other than telling a priest during confession once.

Later, Judy Grayhawk testified that her sister-in-law, Maude Grayhawk, telephoned her in 2004, saying she was trying to avoid investigators with Centurian Ministries, an innocence group advocating Beach's case. During the phone call, Maude Grayhawk said she was present during the killing.

“She said, 'All I did was kick her in the head a few times,”' Judy Grayhawk said. “It really upset me. It blew my mind.”

Judy Grayhawk said she told a cousin of Nees' right afterward, to get the information off her chest. The cousin then tipped Centurion Ministries investigators.

Prosecutors pointed out Thursday that Beach never could provide an alibi for the night of the murder. He also had a violent outburst earlier the day of the murder, testimony revealed.

Original investigators said they suspected Beach from the beginning and administered a lie-detector test that showed he either knew more about the crime or was involved. They believe that Nees's injuries were not consistent with a gang attack, the theory advanced by Beach's lawyer.

Peter Camiel, Beach's lawyer, challenged the testimony.

“In this case, Barry Beach's case, you have no eyewitness evidence to corroborate the confession or any physical evidence to corroborate the confession,” Camiel said.

Camiel also produced documents showing the sheriff's office originally tried using a psychic to solve the crime and hypnotized at least four witnesses. Without solid evidence, Beach was not arrested until he confessed four years later in Louisiana, after being picked up for another crime.

Prosecutors pointed out there is no physical evidence supporting any of the theories offered by Centurion Ministries. And none of the people the group says could be the real killers have confessed - while Beach has, said Assistant Attorney Tammy Plubell.