JARRATT – Jubilant family members converged on Johnathon Montgomery Tuesday night as he walked out of Greensville Correctional Center after being wrongfully imprisoned for 4 years.
"I'm real good, and I'm glad to be out," Montgomery said. "The biggest thing I can say, and my mom has said it to me a couple times, and I didn't realize it until, you know, 3, 4 days ago: 'The truth will set you free.'"
Governor Bob McDonnell issued a conditional pardon for Montgomery Tuesday night and ordered his immediate release from the prison.
Montgomery is the 26-year-old man from Hampton who was sentenced in 2008 for a rape he did not commit.
The governor says he called Montgomery to deliver the news and also spoke to his mother and father.
“Our staff, together with their counterparts in various state and local agencies, did a great deal of work on this petition in under 20 hours. And I thank them for that service. After reviewing the petition for a conditional pardon sought by his attorneys, the evidence that came with it, and additional evidence gathered by our staff, I have granted Mr. Montgomery a conditional pardon, as requested, effective immediately. Mr. Montgomery will leave Greensville Correctional Center this evening. This situation has been a tragedy. An innocent man was in jail for four years. While tonight Mr. Montgomery is free from prison, he will never get those years of his life back. Tonight I called Johnathan to personally offer, on behalf of the citizens of the Commonwealth, our heartfelt apologies for all that he has been put through due to this miscarriage of justice. I am thankful that the witness in this case finally stepped forward to recant her testimony. Justice, while tragically delayed, has been served. I thank everyone who worked so hard on this case to achieve tonight’s outcome. More than anything else, I wish Mr. Montgomery a successful and fulfilled future with his family and his friends," McDonnell said in a press release.
McDonnell went on to say, “It is a travesty of justice when an innocent person is confined in a jail or prison, and it should never occur in our society. Our office became aware of Mr. Montgomery’s situation last week. Since that time members of my staff, along with the Virginia Indigent Defense Commission, the Mid-Atlantic Actual Innocence Project, the Hampton Police Department, the Hampton Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, the Office of the Attorney General, the Virginia Department of Corrections and the Virginia State Police have worked diligently to gather all necessary information in this case and review the matter thoroughly. I asked Mr. Montgomery’s attorneys to file a petition for a pardon with our office, as that action would allow me to exercise my gubernatorial authority and take immediate action. We received that petition at 10 p.m. last night, and began reviewing it immediately."
"I had a lot of, a lot of anxiety getting here," said Montgomery's mother, Mishia Woodruff. "I was excited, and anxious, and all that stuff."
"It's great. It's great to be with my mom. You know, you don't know what you've lost until you've lost it. It's a great feeling to have her by my side at all times," Montgomery said.
Montgomery's accuser, 22-year-old Elizabeth Paige Coast, recently admitted she lied. She was 17 when she accused him of sexually assaulting her when she was 10 and he was 14. In recanting, she said she made up the story after her parents caught her looking at sexually explicit websites.
She reportedly picked Montgomery for the lie because he and his family had moved away.
She is now charged with perjury.
"She's done what she's felt like doing, and she's got to deal with it just like I have to, and I can't comment on any feelings I have towards her at this point," Montgomery stated.
Click here to read the governor's conditional pardon.
Montgomery couldn't be released because Virginia law states a convicted person has just 21 days to return to the circuit court to have the conviction vacated. After that time, the person 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.
Montgomery and family members left Greensville Correctional Center with plans to grab a late dinner. Montgomery said he enjoys eating. During his time in prison, he lost more than 100 pounds, so being able to eat whatever he wants, whenever he wants to eat it, is among the things he looks forward to doing. He, also, is anxious to see his family's pets.