Wednesday, May 22, 2013

False accuser who sent innocent young man to prison for four years pleads guilty to perjury

A follow-up to a story we've followed closely. Elizabeth Coast pleaded guilty yesterday to making a false sexual assault report that led to the conviction and imprisonment of an innocent man. Johnathon Montgomery spent four years in prison for a sexual assault that never happened.

Coast falsely claimed that Mr. Montgomery molested her in 2000 when he was just 14-years-old and she was 10. Mr. Montgomery denied the allegations, but in 2008 a judge convicted him of aggravated sexual battery and other charges based solely on his accuser's story. He was sentenced to 7½ years in prison.  Coast finally recanted her story last year and was charged with perjury.

Coast told investigators that her parents caught her looking at pornographic websites in 2007 when she was 17, so she concocted a story of prior sexual abuse to explain her behavior. In 2000, Montgomery lived across the street from Coast's grandmother in Hampton.

A newspaper account this morning noted that when Coast devised the assault story, she supposedly didn't think anything would happen to Montgomery because he had moved with his father and stepmother to North Carolina in 2004.

Coast's excuse scarcely mitigates her heinous wrongdoing. Once unleashed a rape lie takes on a life of its own. In this case, Coast could have spared Mr. Montgomery the horrors she put him through at any time but chose not to. When Coast saw that Mr. Montgomery had been targeted by law enforcement authorities, she allowed him to be charged, and then tried, convicted, and imprisoned for four years. Finally, she spoke up. (To put this in perspective, if a young man failed to withdraw for several seconds after his sex partner tells him to "stop," he is considered a rapist and will face years in prison. In contrast, Elizabeth Coast allowed Johnathon Montgomery to spend four years in an unspeakable false rape hell.) It would be difficult to fathom a more despicable act.

A Circuit Court judge exonerated Mr. Montgomery last November and ordered him freed. He was released after Gov. Bob McDonnell issued a conditional pardon. The governor stated: "Tonight I called Johnathon 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 recent her testimony. Justice, while tragically delayed, has been served."

The governor's sentiments no doubt were sincere, but this was anything but "justice."  And despite the pardon, Montgomery will not be fully exonerated unless the Virginia Court of Appeals grants his petition for a writ of actual innocence. The court agreed last December to let Montgomery's petition move ahead, but Montgomery's lawyers and the Virginia Attorney General's office asked the court to delay considering the petition until after the perjury charge against Coast was settled.