Here’s some info about the troubling case of a wrongful sexual abuse conviction of a young man, Jonathan Montgomery, on charges later proved fabricated.
He was charged (and convicted) m as an adult even though he had “committed” the (fabricated) offense when he was 14. His accuser has since been charged with perjury.
And Montgomery is still in prison, where he has been wrongfully since 2008. This is because of Virginia’s 21 day rule, and despite a judge’s order for his release. Apparently, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is keeping him there.
From the Virginia American Civil Liberties Union:
Richmond, VA – November 15, 2012 -The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia sent a letter to Governor Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli encouraging them to take action to assist an innocent Hampton man in gaining his freedom and to reform the state’s 21-day rule.
“No person in Virginia should be deprived of liberty for crimes he or she did not commit nor held any longer than necessary once known to be innocent,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Gastañaga. “This is another unfortunate example of the problems stemming from Virginia’s 21-day rule. Wrongfully convicted individuals need a quicker process to have their convictions overturned and gain their freedom.”
Despite the recantation of the victim, and agreement by all involved parties – defense counsel, prosecutors and the court-that Jonathan Montgomery is an innocent man, Montgomery remains in prison. Montgomery is sitting in prison for a crime he did not commit because evidence of his innocence was not discovered until more than 21 days after his conviction. Under Virginia law, a convicted person has just 21 days to return to the circuit court to have the conviction vacated. After 21 days, the individual must appeal to the higher courts for a “writ of actual innocence.” The only other course of action is to appeal to the Governor for a pardon.
According to media reports, both the Governor and Attorney General have said they intend to help Mr. Montgomery win his freedom by using their authority to either expedite the filing of and decision on a “writ of actual innocence” or granting a pardon. The ACLU is encouraged by the Governor and Attorney General’s willingness to take action to quickly grant Mr. Montgomery his freedom.
“We are pleased to hear that the Attorney General is drafting legislation to reform 21-day rule,” added Gastañaga. “We welcome the opportunity to partner with the Governor and Attorney General to draft legislation for the upcoming session that will prevent future injustices by allowing circuit courts to consider evidence of actual innocence and set aside unjust verdicts at any time regardless of whether such evidence is discovered within 21 days after conviction.”
“Because of DNA evidence, we are seeing more and more cases of wrongful convictions,” said Gastañaga. “If we are to trust our criminal justice system, then innocent people need to have a better system for having their convictions set aside so they can more swiftly obtain their freedom for crimes they never committed.”
A copy of the ACLU’s letter can be found here (pdf).
More information from The Associated Press:
Jonathan Montgomery, 26, was convicted in 2008 of sexually assaulting Elizabeth Paige Coast. The accuser, then 17, claimed Montgomery assaulted her outside her grandmother’s house in Hampton in 2000 when he was 14 and she was 10. Montgomery was sentenced to 7½ years in prison.
The Associated Press does not typically identify alleged victims of sexual assault. However, Coast is being identified because authorities say she admitted to fabricating the story and she has been charged with perjury.
On Friday, Hampton Circuit Judge Randolph T. West tossed Montgomery’s felony convictions and ordered him released from prison.
But when relatives went to pick Montgomery up at the prison in Jarratt, they learned Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli’s office had declared the order invalid because the judge lacked jurisdiction.
“This is a tragedy, and the attorney general is very concerned about it,” Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein said in an email. “However, Virginia law will not allow the release.”
. . .Montgomery’s case was first reported by The Daily Press. The Newport News newspaper reported that prosecutor Anton Bell strongly backed Pavek’s request to throw out Montgomery’s convictions and sentence, and West expressed regret for having convicted the man based on Coast’s testimony four years ago.
“You will never forget this, and God knows, I will never forget it,” West said.
Cuccinelli’s full statement on this matter is here.
The gal who accused him, and who has been charged with perjury? She’s free on bond.