HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) - After spending more than four years wrongly imprisoned, Johnathon Montgomery is enjoying his newfound freedom.
"I haven't had sun on my face for six months when I went out in the rec yard over there," Montgomery said.
Montgomery walked out of the Greensville Correctional facility around 8 p.m. Tuesday, a few hours after Gov. Bob McDonnell granted him a conditional pardon.
His accuser, Elizabeth Coast, recanted her story nearly two weeks ago saying she made up the sexual assault she claimed happened when she was 10 and Montgomery was 14. Montgomery was sentenced to spend 7 1/2 years in prison for the 2000 sexual assault of Coast.
When he learned Coast had recanted her story he said he experienced a range of emotions.
"I was mad, I was livid, I was crying," Montgomery said. "I was angry all at the same time."
Wednesday at noon, Montgomery held an impromptu news conference with his family at his side and enjoyed his first pizza party since his imprisonment. He spoke openly about some of the first things he did after he was freed from prison: he ate a cheeseburger, went shopping for clothes and got to take a shower without it being timed.
"You can't imagine how great it feels to take a shower or bath and not be on a timer to get out," Montgomery said Wednesday.
Montgomery told those in attendance that he didn't harbor anger or hate for the injustice done to him. Rather, on this Thanksgiving eve, he talked about how grateful he was to be out of prison.
"You got to keep hope and you have to be alive with a positive attitude," Montgomery said. "If you don't, you will destroy yourself. You've got to keep hope yourself. I kept all the hope."
Montgomery has a favorite saying which seems so appropriate for him: "If you are going through hell, then keep on going."
Four years of hard time produced a tattoo of a hero character who wears a mask and Montgomery wears it on his arm like a window into his soul.
"It taught me something," Montgomery said. "I learned from that character to just keep fighting when you have to."
The pardon does not clear his record, rather a writ of actual innocence would also have to be filed to expunge the crime from Montgomery's record. Montgomery still has to file as a sex offender until the writ is filed.
"His four year suffering of being wrongfully incarcerated is over. He gets to decide what it means as he goes on with his life," said Montgomery's lawyer, Ben Pavek.
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