A Montana man who’s spent decades on death row was scheduled to die last week after confessing to the murder of a fellow inmate, but the lethal injection was delayed at the last minute by a flurry of appeals.
Kenneth Bae, 70, appeared before a judge and apologized for killing fellow inmate Arthur Bremer.
Attorneys for Bae, a native of South Korea who had lived in Montana since 1975, argued that they had missed the Nov. 19 deadline set by state officials to file an appeal. The appeals court upheld the late filing, which continues the string of appeals challenging Bae’s conviction and death sentence.
Bremer’s body was found in December 1968 near eastern Montana’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Police said he was killed just days after he received Bae’s 12-year sentence for theft and possession of a stolen vehicle.
Bremer was working as a cook at the Crow Creek Indian Reservation, about 30 miles from the site of the killing.
Bae’s sentencing trial in 1970 was the first death-penalty trial held in Montana in nearly a century.
“Justice is certainly not fully served in the Eighth Amendment trial,” his court-appointed attorneys wrote in a 2010 petition filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.
“He’s been persecuted for 48 years for something he did at the end of 1971,” defense attorney Scott Armstrong told the Billings Gazette. “It’s unjust and it’s unfair. He served his time. He has the mentality of a human being.”
Bae served 10 years in Montana prisons before being transferred to solitary confinement in Florida. He was released in 1992 but soon was back in Montana, where he was stopped by U.S. border agents in 1994 and arrested for violating Montana’s law against transporting contraband into the state.
A Montana court sentenced him to serve five years in federal prison. Prosecutors announced in June 1994 that they would not seek a second penalty after Bae pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of carrying a concealed firearm.
A citizen of Canada at the time, Bae was deported to South Korea in 2000, having served only a fraction of his five-year sentence in American prison, the Billings Gazette reported.
When he was arrested for violating the Montana law, the Bureau of Prisons tried to place Bae in a minimum-security prison but couldn’t find one.
“Bae was determined to be a security risk, the danger he posed to fellow prisoners, a danger to the staff and the public and the danger to victims and witnesses,” said Daniel Bruch, a Spokane, Wash., attorney appointed by the district court to represent Bae.
In 1993, California authorities received a tip that Bae was making regular trips from South Korea to visit his mother. South Korean authorities arrested him at Los Angeles International Airport and put him on a 747 bound for Seoul.
Bae was convicted of conspiracy to export contraband to South Korea and sentenced to a year and one day in prison.
Branham interviewed Bae in 1995 for CBS’s “60 Minutes.” Bae told the camera that Bremer was killed by accident, that Bremer stole a pair of sneakers and that the inmate, who was 8 1/2 feet tall, failed to return the shoes.
During his interviews with CBS, Bae said Bremer was a good man who was just “doing his job” and didn’t deserve to die.
After receiving the sentencing judgment in 1970, Bae was sentenced to the maximum life term by a federal judge in Helena.
A governor’s pardon was issued in 1976, but the parole board would not meet until 1977.
Despite the pardon, Bae spent the next 25 years in Montana’s prisons because the maximum-security prison in Helena where he would have been sent was closed in 1977.
Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York