A Virginia man convicted of a rape that he did not commit will walk free after spending four years behind bars.
The Virginia Court of Appeals exonerated Johnathan Montgomery Friday, the result of a protracted legal battle that began after his accuser, Elizabeth Paige Coast, admitted she had lied in her testimony.
That testimony was the only evidence that sent Montgomery to prison in 2009 with convictions of forcible sodomy, aggravated sexual battery and animate object sexual penetration.
"Absent Coast's original testimony, the record contains no evidence of Montgomery's guilt," the appeals court said. "There are no witnesses who testified that the incident ever occurred. There is no physical evidence that a crime ever happened. The record is entirely devoid of any evidence that incriminates Montgomery."
Coast claimed at the age of 17 that Montgomery had molested her in Hampton in 2000, when she was 10 and he was 14. Last year she admitted to making up the story by way of explanation to her parents for looking at porn on the Internet. Montgomery had moved out of Virginia, and she said she believed nothing would happen to him.
After her confession, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell granted Montgomery a conditional pardon, which freed him from prison but didn’t remove the sex offender conviction from his record. Montgomery was then left to seek a writ of actual innocence in the appeals court, which was granted Friday.
"The best thing I've learned out of this experience is that a lot of people take for granted the freedoms that they do have," Montgomery told WTKR. "They don't understand what they are doing with what they have. I have a deeper understanding of what’s going on."
Montgomery also called the writ of innocence "the best Christmas present anyone could ever receive."
"It's been a really trying time because as far as the patience is concerned, but I'm happy it's over now," he said.
Coast, now 23, also had to face the consequences of her lie. Hampton Circuit Court Judge Bonnie L. Jones sentenced her to 60 days in prison and $90,000 in restitution fees. The sentence could have been as long as 10 years for perjury, but the judge wanted to punish Coast appropriately for her wrongdoing while acknowledging that the woman seems genuinely regretful of her actions.
She was allowed to serve out her sentence on consecutive weekends in order to work to pay "every penny" of the fine.
"I never forgot about it, never forgot about Johnathon," she told the judge. "My life was wrecked by it and so was his."