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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Montgomery Gets Writ of Actual Innocence


"Getting a job, and I still don't have one. The main issue with this -- I'm still a sex offender. Throughout the whole year I have been a sex offender. I'm still on probation,” Montgomery said. “Even presenting the evidence after the conviction of my accuser for perjury, I presented that to several companies, and they said we still can't hire you." 

There are more than 20,300 Registered Sex Offenders in Virginia and they too can not secure employment because of the public label of RSO AND because the employers don’t want to be listed on the Virginia Sex Offender Registry.  If the job isn’t dealing with children, the elderly or in a medical situation companies should NOT be legally allowed to deny an RSO a job if they are the best candidate for the position. 

But yet lawmakers continue to claim the mandate to register is purely administrative, not punitive. There’s nothing administrative about being denied employment because of a government mandated label.  

Friday's writ of actual innocence means that beginning right now, Jonathan Montgomery no longer needs to register as a sex offender for crimes he did not commit. And after he has his record expunged, it will be as if, at least on paper, his five-year nightmare never happened. 

Congratulations to Jonathan and his family. His slate has been wiped clean and hopefully he can finally begin the life that was taken from him years ago.
 

Montgomery gets writ of actual innocence

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) - He spent more than four years in prison for a sexual assault he didn't commit before his accuser recanted her story. Friday, Johnathon Montgomery's name was finally cleared. 

Montgomery was released from prison November 20, 2012 on a conditional pardon from the governor when Elizabeth Coast, his accuser, admitted she fabricated the entire sexual assault claim. However, Montgomery’s actual writ of innocence was put on hold while Coast’s, perjury case was pending. 

Coast was convicted of perjury this summer and sentenced to two months behind bars. And now, just days before Christmas Montgomery’s present is here – he was finally granted his writ of actual innocence. 

"it's Christmas man. There is nothing I can say. It is beyond words,” Montgomery told WAVY.com Friday. “There is one word: euphoric.” 


WAVY.com was the first to receive the opinion by the Court of Appeals of Virginia from the Attorney General’s Office.
“We hold that Montgomery has met his burden under Code § 19.2-327.11(A) of establishing that he is actually innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted. Accordingly, pursuant to Code § 19.2-327.13 this Court grants Montgomery’s petition and issues a writ of actual innocence based on non-biological evidence, thereby vacating his convictions for forcible sodomy, aggravated sexual battery, and animate object sexual penetration. If there is no appeal from this judgment to the Supreme Court, the clerk shall forward a copy of this writ to the trial court, where an order of expungement shall be immediately entered regarding these offenses.” 


Montgomery is not bitter even, though, he has been unable to get a job. 

"Getting a job, and I still don't have one. The main issue with this -- I'm still a sex offender. Throughout the whole year I have been a sex offender. I'm still on probation,” Montgomery said. “Even presenting the evidence after the conviction of my accuser for perjury, I presented that to several companies, and they said we still can't hire you."

Elizabeth Coast's recantation was not enough. She admitted she lied, pleaded guilty to perjury, and was sentenced on August 19. Yet, all that would not result in Montgomery's actual innocence for another four months. 

"It's just a logistical nightmare is what it is, but today they did the right thing,” he said. 

Montgomery thinks the process needs to change. 

“As far as the time is concerned, yea, I'm a little bit disappointed, because it took so fast for them to convict me, but it took so long for them to get me innocent,” he said. 

The Court's decision is another part of the Johnathon Montgomery road to recovery. He is always positive, never negative.

"It is something I had to live with, and there is no point to moping around with it, I can only do what I can do,” he said.

There are two questions from WAVY.com that Montgomery refused to answer:  any questions about his accuser Elizabeth Coast, and whether he thinks he should be compensated by the State for what he's been through. 

The biggest argument for compensation that must be approved by the General Assembly is he was convicted by a state judge who decided not to believe him, and to believe his accuser, who we now know was lying.

In the court's finding, the Judges wrote, "Besides Coast, no other witnesses to the incident testified at Montgomery's trial, neither was any corroborating physical evidence that an assault occurred ever presented.
 
The trial judge categorized this case as a 'word against word situation.' In reaching his verdict, the trial judge concluded that Coast was more credible than Montgomery because she had 'no motive whatsoever to lie."

We now know the Judge believed the wrong person. 

Friday's writ of actual innocence means that beginning right now, Jonathan Montgomery no longer needs to register as a sex offender for crimes he did not commit. And after he has his record expunged, it will be as if, at least on paper, his five-year nightmare never happened. 

State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli fought for Montgomery's freedom in person, something Attorney Generals rarely do.

"We've had witness recantation cases before, but we've never had one of those cases with a perjury conviction of the recanting witness,” Cuccinelli told WAVY.com.

In its 16-page opinion, the Court made it clear it did not agree with Governor Bob McDonnell making the courts granting a Writ of Actual Innocence a condition for the conditional pardon that freed Montgomery from prison.

"The Court struggled with the Governor's conditional pardon because the Governor involved the court: you got to do this to get my conditional pardon. The court thought this breached the wall of separation of powers," Cuccinelli said.

But in the end, the court granted the writ on a 3-0 vote because Montgomery had the right to request one and the evidence was clear he was indeed innocent.

"We are thrilled that Johnathon is going to be spending Christmas with his family as a free man," said Shawn Armbrust with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, which represented Montgomery in the case.