Woman to serve 2 months for perjury in innocence caseBY FRANK GREEN
Richmond Times-Dispatch | Posted: Monday, August 19, 2013 3:35 pm
HAMPTON -- Elizabeth Paige Coast was sentenced to two months in jail and ordered to make $90,000 in restitution to an innocent man who spent four years behind bars for a lie that snowballed.
Coast, 26, pleaded guilty to perjury in May and was sentenced today by Hampton Circuit Court Judge Bonnie L. Jones, who said she was deeply disturbed the case.
"This goes to the very heart of our judicial system," the judge said before imposing a five-year sentence and suspending all but two months which Coast will be allowed to serve on weekends.
The sentencing clears the way for the Virginia Court of Appeals to consider a petition for a writ of actual innocence filed by Johnathan C. Montgomery, a former neighbor of Coast accused of assaulting her in 2000 when she was 10 years old and he was 14.
Coast was charged with perjury after admitting to authorities last year that she made up the story that Montgomery had sexually assaulted her and that she lied on the witness stand at his June 23, 2008, trial.
"There are no words that I can say that will erase the damage I've done," a tearful Coast told the judge reading from a written statement. Facing up to 10 years in prison, he did not ask Jones for mercy.
Instead, focusing her remarks on Montgomery, Coast said, "I am ashamed for my cowardice. ... I want you to know I never meant to hurt you."
"I had no idea how far this lie would go," she said.
Earlier, Coast took the stand and under questioning by her lawyer, Ronald Smith, Coast said the whole thing started when she was 17 years old and was caught reading adult material on the Internet by her mother, who Coast described as strict and religious.
Her mother wanted to know why she was viewing the material and suggested perhaps that she been sexually assaulted. She said yes, hoping the matter would drop, but her mother kept pressing her for more information.
Under pressure for the name of her assailant she gave hem Montgomery's name, someone who had moved away years earlier.
"I just thought it would go away," she said. When Montgomery, who had moved to Florida, was arrested she said she stuck with the story out of fear.
"I was petrified of the police ... everyone in my life knew," she said. "I was afraid of what my family would think," she said.
She lied in court, the judge took her word over Montgomery's and convicted him.
Coast said, "I never forgot about Johnathan and my life was wrecked by it ... and so was his."
Smith told the judge the sentencing guidelines called for no jail time and asked she be given an alternative sentence that would allow her to make restitution.
Also, he said, "If you put her in jail the message you send to other people who have done this ... if you come forward we're going to lock you up."
The special prosecutor in the case, Hopewell Commonwealth's Attorney Richard K. Newman, said he agreed with much of what Smith said. "I've wrestled with this," he said of he case.
Nevertheless, he asked for a 10-year sentence with six years suspended so she would serve the same length of time as Montgomery.
Just prior to sentencing Coast, Jones asked, "What do I do? Is it an eye for an eye, or is there room for compassion?"
Her conviction and sentencing support the contention her trial testimony was a lie and her recantation the truth. The Virginia Attorney General's Office and Montgomery's lawyers asked the court of appeals to delay considering the petition until the perjury charge was resolved.
Montgomery was released from prison on a conditional pardon from Gov. Bob McDonnell pending the outcome of his petition for a writ of actual innocence.