Court of Appeals finds Johnathon Montgomery innocent
The Virginia Court of Appeals on Friday found Johnathon Montgomery – convicted and imprisoned in 2009 for sex crimes he did not commit – actually innocent of those charges after his alleged victim recanted her testimony and was convicted of perjury in August.
While the attorney general’s office typically argues to uphold convictions, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli personally argued for Montgomery’s exoneration, along with Montgomery’s attorneys, in his actual innocence hearing before a three-judge panel of the court of appeals on Nov. 19. Today’s decision was 3-0; the ruling can be found here.
“We’re gratified for the court’s quick decision in exonerating Johnathon, and we’re glad for this early Christmas present for him. I’m thankful that justice has finally been served,” Cuccinelli said.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Alice T. Armstrong assisted the attorney general with the case.
On September 19, Cuccinelli filed a brief in the court of appeals asking the court to grant Montgomery relief from his convictions after his alleged victim, Elizabeth Coast, recanted her testimony from Montgomery’s 2008 criminal trial and was convicted of perjury in August. The court of appeals had stayed proceedings in Montgomery’s actual innocence case pending the outcome of Coast’s perjury conviction.
The law does not allow courts to simply free convicted felons on the basis of alleged perjured testimony unless a court first evaluates whether the testimony was actually false. Coast’s perjury conviction established both that her recantation was true and her trial testimony was false. Cuccinelli and Montgomery’s attorneys argued that Coast’s perjury conviction was clear and convincing evidence that Montgomery was innocent.
Montgomery is the fifth convicted person for whom Cuccinelli has supported exoneration since becoming attorney general. In 2011, he argued for Thomas Haynesworth, a man who served 27 years for rapes he did not commit. The attorney general also supported the exonerations of Calvin Cunningham, Bennett Barbour, and Garry Diamond, who all won biological writs of innocence at the Virginia Supreme Court.
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