Governor Bob McDonnell issued Johnathan Montgomery a conditional pardon last week in a 2008 alleged molestation case. His accuser, now 22, claimed to have been molested when she was 10 years old and he was 14. Montgomery was convicted of aggravated sexual battery in 2008 and served four years before she recanted.
Prosecutors say Coast fabricated the story of molestation after her parents caught her looking at pornographic websites as a teenager, so she created a tale of prior sexual abuse to explain her behavior. Montgomery lived across the street from Coast’s grandmother, where the alleged incident occurred.
Earlier this month, Montgomery’s conviction was dismissed by the Hampton Circuit Judge and he was ordered to be released. But the Attorney General blocked his release finding that the Circuit Judge did not have the authority to make the ruling. Montgomery could only be exonerated by the Virginia Court of Appeals or a pardon from the governor. The Associated Press reports:
“It’s incredibly exciting. It’s only a little bit bittersweet because, you know, you’re so happy that the person’s out, but then you kind of remember how much they’ve lost,” said Shawn Armbrust, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, which filed a petition asking for Montgomery’s pardon on McDonnell’s behalf.
The governor’s office didn’t want to delay Montgomery’s release any longer and quickly moved to pardon him. Less than 24 hours after Armbrust petitioned for a conditional pardon, Gov. McDonnell personally called Montgomery to apologize for his ordeal.
“I’ve never seen a case move this fast,” Armbrust said. “I think it moved quickly because there was already an order from another judge declaring his innocence and vacating his conviction. And even though that order technically wasn’t valid, I think the idea that both the commonwealth’s attorney and the judge had found this guy innocent, and he was still sitting in prison, was pretty horrifying to a lot of people and I think the governor recognized that.”
Montgomery was home in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family in Florida.