Governor orders innocent man to be released from prison - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Father of wrongly convicted man: Relieved he'll be home Thanksgiving

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VALE, NC (WBTV) -

Jonathan Montgomery, the Vale, North Carolina man who has been in prison for four years, even after his accuser recanted her story, is being released.

Montgomery's father, David Montgomery, is relieved his son will be home for Thanksgiving, but is disturbed his son still has to prove his innocence.

"I want the whole world to know my son," the father said. "Did not commit this crime and eventually it will correct itself."

Jonathan's charges have not been dropped. He received a conditional pardon from the Governor. It will take a Virginia Appeals Court to drop the charges.

In the meantime the 26 year old has to register as a sex offender. This process has taken a toll on the family.

"This has certainly opened my eyes," the father said. "People who have been wrongfully convicted, probably be an advocate from now on. It changed my life forever. It changed who we are as a family."

According to WTKR, Governor Bob McDonnell issued a conditional pardon for Jonathan Montgomery, 26, the man currently imprisoned at Greensville Correctional Center, and ordered his immediate release Tuesday night.  

The governor received the official conditional pardon request from Montgomery's lawyers at 10 p.m. Monday.  

In a phone interview from prison, Montgomery told WTKR he was thankful that the Governor was considering his request for pardon.

"I am hopeful that I will be out before Thanksgiving but I'm setting my eyes on Christmas in particular," Montgomery told WTKR.

"It would mean a lot. To spend time with my Mom and my Dad and my stepmother and have a decent Thanksgiving for once would be the greatest gift I could ever be given right now at this point," Montgomery told WTKR.

"If there is clear supporting evidence of actual innocence it's going to be a pretty easy decision. But again – I want to help Mr. Montgomery," Governor McDonnell told WTKR Monday.

In 2007, Elisabeth Coast came forward accusing Montgomery of taking advantage of her seven years earlier at her grandmother's Virginia home when she was just 10 years old and Montgomery was 14.

In a bench trial, Montgomery was convicted of forcible sodomy, aggravated sexual battery and object sexual penetration. The judge relied primarily on Coast's testimony.

Montgomery was sentenced to forty-five years with all but seven and a half years suspended. 

On October 31, 2012 Chief Deputy Hampton Public Defender Ben Pavek was able to deliver good news to the family: Montgomery's accuser had recanted her story and admitted she made the whole thing up. 

"We were so elated when the judge said I'm vacating the convictions. We were all on cloud 9," Montgomery's mom, Mishia Woodruff, told WBTV in early November.

According to WTKR, Coast was arrested on Friday on one count of perjury. Coast had been working for the Hampton Police Department as a civilian clerk and resigned effective immediately after her arrest. Attempts by WTKR to reach her were unsuccessful. Family members would not comment on the charges.

David Montgomery says the biggest hurdle was cleared when his son was found innocent. But then the Virginia Attorney General's Office blocked his son's release. 

"Finally a judge says, he is an innocent man and orders his release and now the Attorney General says your son is not getting out of jail! How dare he? My son is an innocent man! Why are they playing games with my son's liberties? Why?" Montgomery asked.

Larry Traylor, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections told WTKR that the Department of Corrections had been advised by the Office of the Attorney General not to release Jonathan Montgomery saying that the court order was not valid. 

Montgomery's public defender, Ben Pavek, told WBTV that he planned to go before a Circuit Court judge on Tuesday morning to have the Attorney General's Office show just cause for blocking the release.

In a phone interview, Pavek said this is "not a typical chain of events, he's "never seen anything like it" and "doesn't understand why it's happening." Pavek plans to file a order of contempt against the warden and Department of Corrections for not complying with the judge's order.

"He is ready to come home… he is vindicated that she has confessed she lied," Woodruff said. "I think as far as his feelings towards Ms. Coast… I don't think it has settled in yet… I think we are just dealing with what we have right now and the rest will come later."

"I have said time and time again… this lie has gone on for so long. She [Coast] had every day to come clean. It didn't have to get to this," Montgomery said.

On November 10, Brian Gottstein, Director of Communications for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued the following response to WTKR's questions about why Jonathan Montgomery was still being held in prison: 

"This is a terrible tragedy, and the attorney general is very concerned about it, however, it was not within the jurisdiction of the judge issuing the release order to issue it, therefore, Virginia law will not allow the release.  Most likely, Mr. Montgomery's attorney will have to petition the Virginia Court of Appeals for a writ of actual innocence to be released.  

As you know from three previous actual innocence cases we've seen in the past couple of years, Attorney General Cuccinelli has worked vigorously on the side of the innocent to expedite their release.  That's why the attorney general will not oppose this writ and, in fact, will work with Mr. Montgomery's attorney and the courts to expedite this release any way he can."

David Montgomery hopes the Virginia Court of Appeals will drop the charges and his son will really be a free man.

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