In October 2007, 17-year-old Elizabeth Coast of Hampton, Virginia, told her parents that she had been molested more than six years earlier, on January 21, 2001, when she was 10 years old by a neighborhood boy who was 14 at the time.
Coast identified the boy as Johnathan Montgomery, who had been a freshman at Hampton High School in 2000, but moved to Iowa in 2001.
Montgomery was arrested in October 2007 and charged with forcible sodomy, aggravated sexual battery and sexual penetration with an object.
He went on trial before a judge who heard the case without a jury in the Circuit Court for the City of Hampton. Coast described the assault, which she said took place in her grandmother’s backyard, and said she did not tell anyone at the time because she thought her parents “would get mad” and because she was “really embarrassed.” She said she came forward because she thought she saw Montgomery at a Wal-Mart store.
Montgomery admitted that he tickled Coast, but denied ever molesting her or touching her inappropriately.
On June 23, 2008, the judge convicted Montgomery of forcible sodomy, aggravated sexual battery and sexual penetration with an object, saying the case was a “word against word situation.” Montgomery was sentenced to 45 years in prison, with all but 7-and-half years suspended.
By October 2012, Coast had been a civilian employee in the Hampton police department for three years. On October 30, 2012, Coast called Officer Jim Auer and told him she had “ruined a man’s life.” Two days later, on November 1, Coast made a videotaped statement at the police department admitting she had falsely accused Montgomery after her mother caught her looking at “sex stories” on the internet. Out of fear of her mother, Coast said she was looking at the material because she had been molested when she was 10 years old.
After she named Montgomery as her assailant, the lie snowballed. Coast said in the videotaped statement that nothing happened between her and Montgomery.
On November 9, 2012, Coast was fired from her job at the police department and charged with perjury.
On November 19, 2012, Montgomery, represented by the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, requested that Gov. Robert McDonnell grant a conditional pardon. The pardon was granted and on November 20, 2012, Montgomery was released from prison. The Innocence Project, joined by the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, then filed a petition for a writ of innocence.
The petition was put on hold pending the disposition of the perjury charge against Coast. On May 21, 2013, Coast pled guilty to committing perjury at Montgomery’s 2008 trial. Coast said that she confessed to her lie because she could no longer handle its effect on her life. She said she realized she could not pursue God with that lie still present in her life. On August 19, 2013, Coast was sentenced to five years in prison with all but two months suspended. She was also ordered to pay $90,000 restitution to Montgomery.
On December 20, 2013, the Virginia Court of Appeals granted the petition and awarded Montgomery a certificate of innocence.
– Maurice Possley