Rebecca Beach didn’t kill the drug dealer from Topeka. But she’s in prison for life because Kansas’ felony murder law says she did.

A Bad Trip 

Rebecca Beach didn’t kill the drug dealer from Topeka. But she’s in prison for life because Kansas’ felony murder law says she did.

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Beach's case had been referred by her appeals attorney, Rebecca Woodman of Topeka, who had been dismayed to lose Beach's appeal in 2002 and thought the Defender Project was her last resort.

Woodman says Beach's case highlights the felony murder law's unfairness.

"It was very unusual because she was the girlfriend of the main perpetrator, and she basically took the rap for the whole thing," Woodman says. "I'm not convinced that she was culpable at all, but she was definitely the least culpable of all of these people, and she was the one that was the most vigorously prosecuted."

Few of the Defender Project's cases involve clemency petitions.

"There are not a lot of cases that come through our office that seem to cry out for clemency, but all of us here have been really compelled by the facts in this case," says Beth Cateforis, the KU law professor who is supervising Liggett's work.

At the end of May, the Defender Project sent a 17-page petition to the Kansas Parole Board for review. The parole board must forward it to Governor Kathleen Sebelius' office within three months. In the petition, Liggett asks the governor to pardon Beach.

Beach lives in a cubicle with three other women. A curtain hangs in front of the toilet they share.

She takes a creative-writing class with a volunteer professor from Washburn University and writes awkward, rhyming poems, sometimes with misspelled words, to express her feelings. In a poem called "Jail," she writes haltingly about living in a tiny concrete room and wearing an orange outfit.

How did this happen to me?/I am in a place I thought I'd never be.

She speaks in a soft voice. "I am miserable," she says.

"I am not a suicidal person," she says. "But when I first got here, I used to wish I was dead. I used to pray I wouldn't wake up. "

She misses her kids. The worst part of being in prison, she says, is seeing them, now 8 and 9, cry when they have to leave after a visit. Her daughter lives in Topeka with Burke, and her son is in Kansas City, Missouri, with his grandparents.

Beach's trip to prison shocked her own mother into making some changes. Simpson says she felt guilty about all the years she stayed with Beach's abusive father and about her frequent trips to the casinos after her son's death.

"I thought, if I had been there for my daughter, maybe none of this would have happened," Simpson says. Now she's back at her waitressing job at Chubby's restaurant in Independence. That's where she met her fiancé, whom she says is the first man she's been with who has treated her well. The two of them recently bought a modest ranch-style house in southeast Kansas City. It's filled with knickknacks and family photos. "It was his idea," she says. "He wanted the grandkids to have a nice place to play."

Simpson sometimes baby-sits her grandchildren. And she tries to assist in the efforts to free her daughter.

"It's too late for Bo, but it's not too late for Becky," Simpson says. Rebecca Beach didn't kill the drug dealer from Topeka. But she's in prison for life because Kansas' felony murder law says she did.

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