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AG blocks release of man who was declared innocent

A Hampton judge who ordered the release of a man he convicted for sexual assault four years ago now finds himself in a showdown with the state attorney general.

Hearing evidence that the alleged victim lied in her accusations, and with the agreement of the local prosecutor, Circuit Judge Randolph West last week threw out the convictions and ordered Jonathan Montgomery released, according to the Daily Press (paywall).

When his family went to pick up Montgomery at a state prison, however, prison officials refused to release him. Before they could get to the prison, the office of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli had intervened, saying the trial judge had no jurisdiction to wipe out four-year-old convictions.

Now, Montgomery’s lawyer wants the judge to hold a contempt hearing for the prison officials who refused to obey the release order. Cuccinelli’s office expressed concern about the case, but said the proper channel is to seek a writ of actual innocence.

“[I]t was not within the jurisdiction of the judge issuing the release order to issue it. Therefore, Virginia law will not allow the release,” a spokesperson told the newspaper.

Cuccinelli pledged to cooperate with an actual innocence proceeding.

The dramatic reversal of fortune for Montgomery came after his accuser recanted, telling authorities she made up claims of a childhood sexual assault.  Current Hampton Commonwealth’s Attorney Anton Bell agreed the accuser, now 22, had lied in her accusations.

At a hearing Friday, West described the situation as “the court’s worst nightmare.”

Based on the accuser’s 2008 testimony, West had convicted Montgomery of three felonies and sentenced him to serve seven and a half years in prison.

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