Hampton Roads / Local / Politics / Virginia

Free an innocent man

Jonathan Montgomery (Virginia DOC)

It’s not often that people from both sides of the aisle are in agreement but that’s exactly where we are today. The Washington Post’s editorial board and Virginian-Pilot columnist Kerry Dougherty both argue that something should be done – and soon – to free Jonathan Montgomery, a man serving a prison sentence for a crime he did not commit.

Montgomery was convicted of sexual assault but the victim has recanted – and been charged with perjury. Presented with this evidence, the original judge ordered him freed. But then Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli stepped in and said the judge lacks the authority to release him. (Official statement here.)

Frank Green of The Richmond Times-Dispatch puts the problem squarely in focus and lays it at the feet of the General Assembly:

The case of a Hampton man wrongly convicted of sexual assault but who cannot be released from prison again raises concern about the ability of the state’s judicial system to correct mistakes.

[…]

In many states, newly discovered evidence of innocence can be taken years later to the same court in which inmates were convicted so their names can be cleared — as has been done at least twice in Hampton.

But in Virginia, circuit courts lose jurisdiction in cases 21 days after they become final and cannot consider new evidence of innocence. The only remedy available in such a case is a pardon from the governor, or though writs of actual innocence in the courts.

Perhaps if the General Assembly spent a little more time fixing such ridiculous laws as the 21-day rule and a whole lot less time on say, personhood and abortion, cases like Montgomery’s – and he’s not alone – might actually not be a news story.

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