RICHMOND, Va. — David Montgomery was jubilant when a judge ordered his son freed from prison, exonerated after the woman who accused him of molesting her admitted the story was a fraud. But that abruptly turned to agony when Montgomery learned Virginia’s attorney general was keeping his son behind bars.
“It was just another twist of the knife,” Montgomery said in a telephone interview Monday. “They need to release my son.”
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 e-mail. “However, Virginia law will not allow the release.”
Montgomery likely will need to ask the state court of appeals to declare him innocent before he can be released, but Cuccinelli would support such a petition as he has in other wrongful conviction cases, Gottstein said.
Montgomery’s attorney, Ben Pavlek, said Monday that he would welcome help from the attorney general, but he still believes West’s order is valid. He said he has filed court papers asking that the Department of Corrections and the warden of the Jarratt prison be held in contempt of court.
Department of Corrections spokesman Larry Traylor acknowledged the attorney general said the order was invalid but declined further comment.
Montgomery’s father, who lives in Vale, N.C., and his attorney say the wrongly convicted man should not have to spend another day in prison.
“I used to actually believe everything about law enforcement and prosecution of criminals,” David Montgomery said. “This has severely degraded my faith in the system.”
Pavek said Montgomery is innocent and spent five years in prison based on a “total fabrication.”
“No crime took place, nothing happened,” Pavek said.
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.
Coast was arrested that same day on the perjury charge and released on bond. Neither Hampton Police nor the prosecutor responded to messages from The Associated Press on Monday, which was a federal holiday.
The AP could not locate a working telephone number for Coast. A woman who identified herself as Coast’s mother declined to provide any information, and it was unclear if Coast has an attorney.
Coast was working as a clerk for the Hampton police when she recanted her story. A person who answered the phone there said the woman no longer works for the city.
According to The Daily Press, Bell said at Friday’s hearing that Coast told investigators that her parents caught her looking at pornographic websites in 2007, so she concocted the story of prior sexual abuse to explain her behavior. Coast blamed Montgomery because his family had moved away and she didn’t think police would be able to track him down, Bell said.
It was not clear, however, why Coast decided to recant five years later.
David Montgomery said he has never doubted that his son is innocent.
“He wouldn’t hurt a flea,” he said. “When this happened, we were in shock.”