Originally posted on November 23, 2012
The people who rail against advocates for the falsely accused love to point out that the majority of overturned cases do not actually involve false accusations. Instead, those cases are usually cases of wrongful prosecution. A rape occurred, but the wrong person was punished for it. People use that as proof that no men or boys are ever convicted of a crime that never happened. However, that is not true:
Johnathan Montgomery spent the past four years in a Virginia state prison saying the same thing a lot of inmates do: He was innocent.
Convicted in 2008 of molesting a 10-year-old girl outside her grandmother’s Hampton home when he was 14, he insisted the alleged 2000 assault never happened. Turns out, he was telling the truth.
After the woman recently recanted her story, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on Tuesday issued a conditional pardon to Montgomery, allowing him to be freed in time for Thanksgiving at his father’s home in Vale, N.C.
“The truth sets you free,” Montgomery, now 26, said Tuesday night, shortly after being released from the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarrat, Va., where reporters awaited him.
It’s not exactly clear why the woman, Elizabeth Paige Coast, recanted her story, but she was working as a clerk for the Hampton, Va., police department at the time.
According to the article, Coast came up with the story in 2007 when she was 17 to explain to her parents why she was looking at porn. The article states that Coast did not think anything would happen to Montgomery because he had moved away three years before she made the accusation, however, things turned out quite different than she intended. Montgomery was convicted and sentenced to 7 ½ years in prison
While in prison, Montgomery tried to cope:
He said he coped as best as he could behind bars. A fellow inmate gave Montgomery a tattoo on his right forearm of a masked anime character from the show “Bleach” that he said represented a struggle and the need to continually keep fighting. Among the few possessions he left prison with was a Sudoku book that included a meaningful quote, “If you’re going through hell, keep on going.”
“I looked at that and said ‘Wow.’ And that’s what we’re doing,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
Things did not go smoothly once the woman recanted:
Earlier this month, Hampton Circuit Judge Randolph T. West threw out Montgomery’s felony convictions and ordered him released from prison.
But when relatives went to pick Montgomery up at the prison, they learned that Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli’s office had declared the order invalid, finding the judge lacked jurisdiction. The prison warden let him spend several hours with his son, but his father called being turned away without him “another twist of the knife.”
Under Virginia law, only the state Court of Appeals can exonerate Montgomery or the governor could pardon him.
Amid heavy local media coverage and public outrage that Montgomery’s release could be delayed by weeks, McDonnell’s office moved to pardon him. The governor personally called Montgomery on Tuesday to apologize for his ordeal and tell him that he would be free that night. Armbrust had filed the petition for a conditional pardon less than 24 hours earlier.
Leave it to the state to screw with an innocent man’s release. This is not the first time I have seen something like this. A similar thing happened with a foster kid who used to live at my home, but by the time his case was handled he had already committed suicide.
Now, I am sure the naysayers will claim that this does not prove anything. The woman could have been forced to recant, they will say. Perhaps she felt that Montgomery had spent enough time in prison, they will say. Perhaps she never wanted him to go to prison and now that she is older she decided to do something about it, they will say. I will say that there is nothing supporting any of those theories. All we can go on is the woman’s recantation.
What is more important is that this young man was convicted based solely on this woman’s word. While plenty of people who have no proof of abuse are telling the truth, this case shows how easy it is to convict someone of a crime they did not commit. The article does not mention what evidence was used in the case, but one can assume there was only the woman’s testimony since she reported the false claim seven years after it (never) happened.
That means all it took was her word. All it took was her telling a convincing enough story. We can imagine that Montgomery protested his innocence. We can imagine his attorneys argued that there was no evidence linking him to the crime. We can imagine his attorneys brought up how the claim came about. Yet, a jury bought this woman’s false accusation.
And had she not recanted, Montgomery would still be in prison. Let me repeat that: had she not recanted, Montgomery would still be in prison.
He had no proof, nothing at all, that he was innocent. That is why advocates for the falsely accused are so skeptical of rape accusations. It is not because every person who claims they were raped is lying, but that it is so easy for a lie to be believed and the consequences are high for those who are convicted.