Written by John Plestina
The Wolf Point School board voted unanimously Tuesday, April 8, to place two proposed tax levies on the May 5 ballot.
School district trustees and administrators said both levies are necessary.
A $200,000 continuous elementary general fund levy could be used to fund the preschool program. The district needs nearly $200,000 annually to retain the program. The preschool program is at risk of cuts if voters don’t approve the levy.
“Losing our preschool would be a huge blow to our community, to our kids,” board chairman Martin DeWitt said.
A one-year $250,000 levy would increase the building reserve and could fund a new gym floor and pave the high school parking lot.
DeWitt said there is a tremendous need for the parking lot because of safety reasons among large potholes and ice.
Superintendent Joe Paine said floor boards in the gym are sagging and potholes in the parking lot create safety concerns.
“If people vote it down, we’re not going to have either,” Janice Wemmer-Kegley said of the use of the gym and the preschool program.
She said basketball tournaments held in the gym are a huge benefit to the community.
Board member Ed Bach said cost figures need to be sent to property owners.
The cost to owners of homes with taxable market values of $100,000 would be $46.28 per year or $3.86 per month for the building reserve levy and $69.55 per year or $5.80 per month for the elementary general fund levy. If voters approve both levies, the cost to homeowners with assessed values of $100,000 would be $115.83 annually or $9.66 per month.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 April 2014 12:40
Written by John Plestina
(Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series exploring the 1979 murder of Poplar High School student Kim Nees and the controversy over whether a jury convicted the guilty person. A clemency hearing for Barry Beach is scheduled for April 29.)
Nearly 35 years have passed since the bludgeoned body of Poplar High School senior Kim Nees was found near the bank of the Poplar River. This week marks 30 years since the controversial conviction of the accused killer, a classmate of Nees.
Now, after three decades of legal wrangling, the Montana Board of Pardons and Paroles has scheduled a clemency hearing for Barry Beach in Deer Lodge Tuesday, April 29. If the board grants Beach’s clemency application, it would then be up to Gov. Steve Bullock to approve or deny the request.
Beach is not asking that the seven-member panel overturn his sentence; but rather to reduce the sentence, making him eligible for parole or for Bullock to commute his sentence. The board could make a decision during the hearing or take information under advisement for a decision at a later date.
Convicted by a jury of deliberate homicide in 17th District Court in Glasgow April 13, 1984, Judge James Sorte sentenced Beach May 11, 1984, to 100 years in the custody of the Montana Department of Corrections without the possibility of parole.
He had been charged with the murder of Nees in the 15th Judicial District at Wolf Point in September 1983.
Arrested Jan. 4, 1983, in Monroe, La., on a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, Ouachita Parish detectives interrogated Beach about the abduction and murders of three young women in Louisiana. He was never charged with any felonies in Louisiana. According to reported information, a background check on Beach alerted detectives to him having been a suspect in the murder of Nees nearly four years earlier.
Beach, then 21, confessed to killing Nees in what has since been called a coursed confession.
He pleaded not guilty and has consistently maintained an assertion of innocence.
Several appeals were denied.
Beach appealed to the Montana Supreme Court which affirmed the conviction July 25, 1985.
In January 2008, 17th District Court at Wolf Point denied a petition for a new trial.
During December 2011, following a three-day evidentiary hearing, now-retired Fergus County District Court Judge E. Wayne Phillips granted Beach a new trial.
He was released on his own recognizance and was subsequently free for 17 months. He lived in Billings until the Montana Supreme Court reinstated the murder conviction with a 4-3 decision. On May 15, 2013, Beach surrendered himself to the custody of the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office.
Montana’s highest court considered Beach’s release after then attorney general and now governor Bullock appealed the lower court’s ruling.
Centurion Ministries, a Princeton, N.J., investigative agency with a mission to free wrongly-convicted people from prisons, accepted Beach’s case. That agency claims it has new evidence that implicates persons other than Beach in the murder.
Questions loom over whether Beach was wrongly accused and convicted.
New possible evidence includes a claim by a Great Falls couple that a woman who is from Poplar confessed to them on several occasions during 2005 and 2006 to being one of several teenage girls who beat a girl to death years ago. There are other reports of that woman and other women from Poplar telling others they were involved in Nees’ death.
The Herald-News will not identify any of those individuals at this time.
Fort Peck Department of Law and Justice officers found the body of Nees, 17, on the southeast edge of Poplar at 7 a.m., June 16, 1979. It is believed that she was beaten to death in her pickup truck after 1 a.m. and dragged to the site where the body was found near the river.
The Herald-News reported June 21, 1979, that Nees had been seen alive alone in her pickup six hours before she was found dead.
The body was found on tribal land but it was a state case because neither Nees nor Beach were tribal members. The FBI was involved in the investigation because the crime occurred on tribal land.
According to the autopsy report by a Great Falls pathologist, Nees died from multiple blunt force impact injuries to the head and neck including extensive skull fractures and lacerations of the brain. The report states that a crescent wrench and hammer could have been used.
The autopsy report also describes a rough sliding type abrasion with particles of dirt and a notation that two people had carried her body.
The controversial case has left local people with differing opinions about Beach’s guilt and has intrigued the media for three decades. Dateline NBC featured the case in 2008.
Supporters of Beach recently held a rally in Helena.
With the clemency hearing approaching, more than 200 people wrote letters to the parole board urging the panel to free Beach. Among them were Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., former senator Conrad Burns, former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Billings Mayor Tom Hanel and retired Supreme Court Justice James Nelson.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 April 2014 12:38
Written by Sheridan Shumway
The Wolf Point Volunteer Fire Department responded to a grass fire west of Sixth Avenue South Monday afternoon, April 14. Firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze before it threatened any structures.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 April 2014 12:34
Written by John Plestina
The message from several speakers during a public meeting held in the Fort Peck Lake Interpretive Center Thursday, April 10, was that flooding along the Missouri River in eastern Montana is unlikely this year unless there is substantial rainfall.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operations project manager John Daggett said there were 53.2 million acre feet of water in the total system on April 1.
There were 62.7 MAF in the total system on the same date in 2011.
Fort Peck Lake is 9.2 feet below annual flood control.
The Corps of Engineers is looking at potential mountain snowpack runoff during May and June, but there is not expected to be enough moisture to cause flooding without significant rainfall.
Snowpack water content is not as high as it was in 2011 when flooding impacted several communities along the Missouri River, including Wolf Point and Poplar.
The April 1 forecast was 32 million acre feet of water, 127 percent of average.
Mike Swenson of the Corps of Engineers reservoir control office in Omaha, Neb., said run-off started with an additional 5.5 MAF of flood control storage along the six-dam system due to the 2012 drought.
Fort Peck Lake’s share of that was 9.2 feet below the flood control level on April 7.
Record-high runoff and flooding in June 2011 damaged the spillway at the dam. A $42.9 million repair project has been ongoing.
Col. Bill Leady, deputy commander in the Corps of Engineers Northwest Division in Portland, Ore., said the spillway is usable, if needed, but use would add to contractors’ costs.
Fort Peck Dam, built during the 1930s, is the oldest of the six dams along the main stem reservoir system of the Missouri River Basin between Montana and St. Louis, Mo., and the second largest in capacity. Only Garrison Dam in North Dakota is larger.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 April 2014 12:43
Written by John Plestina
Wolf Point Police arrested two young adults and three juveniles during the early morning hours of Friday, April 11, following a report by a citizen that youths had been entering parked cars in the 200 block of Edgar Street.
Lt. Brian Erwin said the arrests were the result of officers responding to an area where several individuals were reported to be walking and entering unlocked vehicles at 3:41 a.m.
Officers arrested Kaylob Trowbridge, 22, of Wolf Point, for theft, criminal mischief, criminal trespass to a vehicle, unlawful transaction with children and disorderly conduct; and Valen Manternach, 19, of Wolf Point, for theft, disorderly conduct, criminal trespass, criminal mischief, and contributing to the delinquency of minors.
The three arrested juveniles were a 13-year-old Wolf Point male for theft, disorderly conduct, criminal mischief, criminal trespass and curfew violation; a 13-year-old Wolf Point female for theft, disorderly conduct, criminal mischief and curfew violation; and a 15-year-old Wolf Point male for theft, disorderly conduct, criminal mischief, criminal trespass and curfew violation.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 April 2014 12:28