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Saturday, November 2, 2013

One Year Later: Wrongly Convicted Jonathan Montgomery is Still a Registered Sex Offender, Will Justice Ever Be Served? When Will Virginia Allow Him to Start the Life They Took From Him With an Accusation Alone?

 
As most of you, I have been following the Jonathan Montgomery case for the last year. For the following reasons. 

  1. Mr. Montgomery’s case actually made it to trial.
In Virginia more than 96% of criminal cases are settled with a plea deal. The State counts on less than 4% of cases needing to be proven in court to a judge or jury. Most citizens cave and take the plea deal that is inevitably offered. Out of fear of a lifetime in prison (no parole in VA), out of ignorance, fear of losing their employment, their home and/or their family or maybe due to financial constraints like the inability to pay for a descent defense  (not even a good defense) which starts at $30,000 and up, up, up from there. 

If Mr. Montgomery had taken a plea deal as most citizens do, he would have then forfeited his right to appeal all matters from the case including his guilt or innocence.  

  1. Mr. Montgomery was found guilty on the word alone of Elizabeth Coast; no evidence other than her accusation was ever submitted by the Prosecution (Commonwealth Attorney) and in Virginia no other evidence is required.
I’ve read the court transcripts (91 pages) from the Montgomery case and I can tell you there was no evidence against Mr. Montgomery compelling or otherwise. The State did not prove guilt. But the judge sided with the "victim" saying he could not imagine why she would lie. 

  1. When Elizabeth Coast finally recanted her false accusation against Mr. Montgomery Virginia’s archaic 21 Day Rule prohibited Mr. Montgomery’s immediate release from a Virginia prison. 
In Virginia a complaining witness has 21 days from sentencing to recant after those 3 weeks if a recant occurs the Commonwealth of Virginia will not listen. Especially, if the falsely convicted person is no longer in prison or if it wasn’t a felony but a misdemeanor. No chance in getting your name cleared in these cases. 

The State can’t be bothered with undoing the wrongful conviction or removing the innocent Virginian from the public Sex Offender Registry or all the restrictions that accompany being an RSO. Only newly discovered biological evidence may be admitted after 21 Days from sentencing, yet 80% of criminal cases don’t have any DNA evidence.

Virginia has adjusted our statutes to allow victims of abuse to come forward many years later, but when it comes to a recant its 21 Days or NOTHING! The very same person that the State based their entire case upon is ignored. It took Elizabeth Coast more than 4 years to gain the courage to right the terrible wrong she created. 

There should be no deadline for the truth OR on justice being served in our state. Every recant should be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly as would be done with every new accusation of abuse no matter how old. 

For 5 years I’ve tried to get just one Virginia lawmaker to sponsor a bill to fix the 21 Day Rule, but not one Delegate or Senator is willing to put their name on such a Bill. 

  1. Mr. Montgomery was finally released from prison days later, I believe only because of the media coverage. But his felony conviction and the mandate that he register as a sex offender remained.

  1. Elizabeth Coast was charged with perjury for lying about the sexual abuse.  
Perjury in Virginia is punishable by imprisonment from one to 10 years, confinement in jail for up to 12 months, and/or a fine of up to $2,500.  Virginia Code §18.2-434. and §8.01-4.3. 

-         Elizabeth Coast's False Rape Claim Leads To 2 Months Jail In Virginia, August 20, 2013
-         Woman to serve 2 months for perjury in innocence case, August 20, 2013
-         Woman who lied about sex assault pleads guilty, May 21, 2013

But when the court sentenced her they decided not to sentence her to the maximum prison time because they didn’t want to appear too harsh on liars or perhaps dissuade future liars from coming clean. She was allowed to serve her 2 months on weekends. 

  1. A year later Mr. Montgomery still has a felony conviction on his record and must register as a sex offender. This means he prospects for a bright future are bleak. Renting an apartment of his own almost impossible, Finding a good job perhaps a career, not a chance. Going to college to get a degree, not very likely.  Until he receives a full pardon he is branded with a scarlet letter that bars him from almost every aspect of life.
Mr. Montgomery may have been released from a Virginia prison a year ago, but according to Virginia he’s a Predator, a Pervert and a Pedophile. Luckily for Mr. Montgomery most people know Ms. Coast recanted so his existence is probably better than the hundreds maybe thousands of wrongly convicted Virginians who are listed on the Registry today.

The registry is considered administrative, non-punitive by those not listed. But those who are affected by the label suffer daily and for the Commonwealth to force any innocent person to endure this additional pain plus bear the burden to clear their own name is beyond cruel. 

Mary Devoy
 

Fighting for Justice: When will Johnathan Montgomery’s name finally be cleared?
October 31, 2013

A year after his office blocked Montgomery’s release from prison, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli now says he’ll personally be involved in arguing for his innocence before the Court of Appeals of Virginia. 

Montgomery was accused of sexually assaulting Elizabeth Coast when she was 10 and he was 14. She didn’t come forward with the allegations until 7 years later and it was her testimony alone that convicted Montgomery and sent him to prison.
 


In October 2012, Coast recanted and admitted the entire story was made up. Court documents later revealed that she made up the lie after her parents caught her looking at pornography and she used Montgomery’s name because she knew his family had moved away from Hampton. 

Following her recantation, a Hampton Circuit Court Judge ordered the charges against Montgomery vacated and for him to be released from prison. 
 
That was November 9, 2012. Late in the afternoon, as NewsChannel 3 waited with the Montgomery family outside the Greensville Correctional Facility for Johnathan to be released, the Attorney General’s Office told the Department of Corrections that the order was invalid and not to release Montgomery.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli says the order violated Virginia’s 21-day rule, prohibiting courts from overturning rulings three weeks after they are finalized. 

“We gave our client at the beginning- the Department of Corrections – correct legal advice, which we needed to do,” Cuccinelli explained.

NewsChannel 3 then went to Richmond and asked Governor Bob McDonnell to Take Action and grant Montgomery a pardon. 

Just two days before Thanksgiving, Montgomery was given a conditional pardon. That meant he was able to leave prison, but still needed to obtain a Writ of Actual Innocence in order to fully clear his name.

Montgomery had to register as a sex offender and had restrictions placed on his ability to travel.

“Certainly I watched the governor say in his press releases this man is innocent. If I’m the governor and I believe this man is innocent, I pardon him,” Cuccinelli explained. “His position has been to our office: ‘look, this process exists. I want you to go through the process.’ He wants the judicial determination if he can get it.”

Cuccinelli says he’ll now help Montgomery obtain the Writ of Actual Innocence when arguments are heard before the Court of Appeals of Virginia on November 19.

“We in the Attorney General’s office normally oppose those but we are joining his side to try and help him prove that he was innocent and try to get his conviction wiped out,” Cuccinelli stated.

In a sit-down interview with NewsChannel 3’s Todd Corillo, Cuccinelli responded to those who say the timing of his involvement appears political.

Cuccinelli, a Republican, is currently running for Governor.

“I argued the last one of these is my response to that. I am arguably the most experienced lawyer in this office,” Cuccinelli explained. “When this is argued it’s going to be November 19. It’s going to be two weeks after the election is over. I don’t think this is going to have any impact.”

Cuccinelli also says there’s nothing he could have done to help Montgomery earlier.

“Our office has done everything it could at every step,” Cuccinelli explained.

Montgomery’s Writ of Actual Innocence Petition was put on hold during the court proceedings for Elizabeth Coast’s perjury charge.

She was convicted and sentenced in August to 2 months of jail time and restitution.

“We asked the court to expedite after the perjury conviction was completed; they chose not to do that,” Cuccinelli says.

After the oral arguments on November 19, Cuccinelli says it could still be 6-8 weeks before a ruling is made.

For their part, Johnathan Montgomery and his family have chosen not to comment during the Writ of Actual Innocence process.