By MATT VOLZ
HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana's parole board on Wednesday rejected a clemency application from Barry Beach, meaning he will continue to serve a 100-year prison sentence for the 1979 slaying of a high-school classmate on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.
The decision from the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole marked the fourth time since 1994 that the panel has declined to hold a full clemency hearing for Beach.
Beach has argued police in Louisiana coerced the 1983 confession used to convict him in the beating death of 17-year-old Kim Nees of Poplar.
His cause has been taken up by hundreds of supporters, among them Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, former Gov. Brian Schweitzer and former Republican U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns. The New Jersey-based prisoner advocacy group Centurion Ministries also has worked to free him.
In his latest application, Beach did not argue his innocence. Instead, he said circumstances have changed since his last clemency application was denied in 1979.
An offender whose application previously was denied may apply again only if there is a substantial change in circumstances, board executive director Fern Johnson said.
Beach argues that is the case here. For one, a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled juvenile offenders can no longer be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, reflecting new scientific findings that young criminals have the capacity to change.
Plus, Beach's supporters say he showed model behavior in prison and when he was free for 18 months after a judge ordered a new trial for Beach. Witnesses told the judge that Nees might have been beaten to death in an out-of-control fight among a gang of girls.
The Montana Supreme Court overturned that decision last year, sending Beach back to prison to finish his sentence.
Bullock wrote the board a letter earlier this year saying Beach should have the opportunity for rehabilitation outside prison. It was the first time in memory a sitting governor had written such a letter, Johnson said.
Former Gov. Marc Racicot, who was the special prosecutor in Beach's 1984 murder trial, wrote that the parole board should reject clemency for Beach. Racicot said in his letter the new evidence Beach refers to is the same that was considered and rejected by the Supreme Court in its decision to deny a new trial.
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