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Effort to exonerate Va. man moves forward

Monday - 12/31/2012, 4:29pm  ET

RICHMOND, Va. - The effort to clear the name of a man who spent four years in a Virginia prison for a sexual assault he didn't commit is moving forward.

The Virginia Court of Appeals on Friday agreed to let Johnathan Montgomery's petition for a writ of actual innocence move ahead. Despite being pardoned last month, Montgomery will not be fully exonerated of the crimes unless the court grants the writ.

Montgomery was convicted in 2008 of molesting a 10-year-old girl eight years earlier in Hampton. Montgomery denied the allegations, but a judge convicted him based solely on his accuser's story.

The accuser, Elizabeth Paige Coast, waited several years before admitting she lied. A circuit court judge exonerated Montgomery in November and ordered him freed. Montgomery's release was blocked by Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, who said only an appellate court could toss out the conviction.

Montgomery, 26, spent 12 more days in prison before Gov. Bob McDonnell, acting less than 24 hours after receiving a petition, granted a conditional pardon. However, the conviction remains on Montgomery's record until the appeals court acts, and he still must register as a sex offender.

The Attorney General's Office has 30 days to respond.

Attorneys in Cuccinelli's office will work with attorneys seeking the writ, provided their research of the evidence shows that Montgomery is innocent, a spokesman wrote in an email on Monday.

"We are still quite frustrated," said Montgomery's father, David Montgomery, said earlier this month. "I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy."

Meanwhile, Coast has been charged with perjury. She said she lied about being molested to explain her behavior after her parents caught her viewing sexually explicit material on the Internet, and she blamed Montgomery because he had moved out of state and she didn't think authorities would be able to find him.

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