This morning, December 20, 2013, in a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeals of Virginia granted Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP) client Johnathan Montgomery’s Petition for a Writ of Actual Innocence, officially exonerating him in time to spend Christmas with his family as a free man for the first time since 2006. Montgomery had been convicted in 2008 of a sexual assault that we now know never occurred, and his exoneration comes four months after the alleged victim in the case was convicted and sentenced for perjuring herself at his 2008 trial when she testified that Montgomery had sexually assaulted her.
The alleged victim in the case, Elizabeth Coast, recanted her testimony in October of 2012 to a friend who worked with her at the Hampton Police Department. Based on that conversation, police and prosecutors interviewed Coast and found her credible, and she was charged with perjury. The Hampton Circuit Court ordered Montgomery’s release in November 2012. Under Virginia law, however, the court lacked jurisdiction to enter the order, and it was not enforced.
MAIP was contacted in November 2012 by representatives of Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, who asked MAIP to get involved in the case. MAIP quickly secured co-counsel at Hogan Lovells US LLP, who have been involved ever since. On November 19, 2012, Montgomery sought a conditional pardon, which was granted on November 20, 2012, and required Montgomery to seek a Writ of Actual Innocence. That Writ ultimately was joined by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who argued the case for the Commonwealth.
Montgomery has been registered as a sex offender since his conditional pardon more than a year ago, which means that he has been unable to find a job or visit his family without obtaining permission. With the issuance of the Writ, those restrictions will be lifted.
We are thrilled that Montgomery’s long saga finally is over, and we hope that his long wait for freedom prompts the General Assembly to consider changes to the Writ of Actual Innocence that will facilitate freedom more quickly when all parties agree that an innocent person has been convicted. For news coverage, see,
This is MAIP’s fourth exoneration in 2013. Only one other innocence organization in the country has obtained as many exonerations this year, and MAIP has done so with only about one percent of the funding that goes to innocence work nationally. This could not have happened without the generous support of our donors. Thank you!