Life After Exoneration for Client Konrad Montgomery

“I had no idea innocent people went to jail until I was the innocent person in jail” – exonerated man interviewed on Michigan Radio.

After spending almost 3 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Konrad Montgomery was released in April 2016.  He was exonerated in July 2016.  Montgomery was recently interviewed by Michigan Radio.  In the interview, he recounts the events that led to his conviction, his efforts in overturning his conviction, life after exoneration, and the loss of nearly three years of his life.  SADO attorney Malika Ramsey-Heath represented Montgomery through the process of appeal and exoneration.  Montgomery’s story is compelling - and telling as to how things can go wrong in the justice system.  

In December 2012, a man was shot three times in East Detroit.  The perpetrator took cash and a cell phone.  The victim’s son used an app to track the victim’s cell phone.  The cell phone was tracked to a cell phone store, and the owner of the store identified Montgomery as the person who had sold him the phone.  And the victim picked Montgomery out of a photo line-up. The police and the prosecutor believed they had their man. 

Montgomery told them he and a buddy made a business of purchasing used cell phones and reselling them to cell phone stores.  He insisted that he was miles away at the time of the crime and his cell phone records could prove it.  But no one would listen.  And no expert was presented at trial to explain the cell phone records or how they supported Montgomery’s claims.  He was convicted of the crime and sentenced to 12 to 25 years in prison.  “You only realize it happens when it happens to you or someone close to you,” Montgomery said, “I had no idea innocent people went to jail until I was the innocent person in jail.”

Montgomery was placed in Level 4 confinement, where he was locked down 20 hours a day.  It was harsh:  “Prison is hard for guys who did it,” said Montgomery, “so imagine what it’s like for a guy who didn’t do it.”  But in this harsh environment, Montgomery kept remembering the words of the prosecution at his trial: “He had the phone within 24 hours of the crime, ladies and gentlemen.”  Montgomery believed that cell phone records were the key to proving his innocence, so he “dug in deep.”  He looked at cell phone records from the cases of other inmates, and he reached out to every advocacy group he could locate, but again and again he was told, “We can’t help you.”  Finally, Montgomery contacted Scott Ross of California, who provided Montgomery with “the blueprint on how to read cell phone evidence.” 

With the “vital information” from Ross, Montgomery sought legal counsel, asking an attorney to get a cell phone expert to review his records.  But the attorney did not think a cell phone expert would help.  Determined to find counsel who would pursue his theory, and “by the blessing of God,” Montgomery connected with SADO’s Malika Ramsey-Heath (who became lead counsel in the case) and Mike Waldo who second-chaired.  “They listened,” said Montgomery, “that’s all you can ask.  Listen and help.”  Ramsey-Heath obtained an expert.  The expert’s opinion showed that the cell phone evidence presented at trial was misconstrued and misunderstood; with a proper interpretation, the cell phone evidence fully corroborated Montgomery’s account of his whereabouts. The Court of Appeals reversed Montgomery’s conviction and remanded for a new trial in April 2016.  Montgomery was exonerated in July 2016.

Spending nearly three years in prison for a crime he did not commit left a mark on Montgomery.  He has “a hate” in him that he is trying to control.  He commented, “My skin is crawling even now just thinking about it.”  He added, “I’m real cautious about what I do now.  They won’t get me like this again, and that’s a crazy way to have to think.”  He said that the hardest thing about rebuilding and reclaiming his life now is “relationships, personal relationships.”  His relationship with two of his sisters was affected by a bond issue prior to his trial.  His children’s mother “got a new guy.”  And his relationship with his daughter, who, prior to his wrongful incarceration, was “daddy’s little girl,” is now somewhat remote. “Relationships were torn,” said Montgomery.  But his goal for the future is “to bloom, to be great,” and to “speak out.”

Montgomery was interviewed as part of Michigan Radio’s “Compensation for Lost Time” series, which focuses on people who are eligible for compensation from the State for being wrongfully convicted.  For years, Michigan has aided persons who are paroled from prison with housing, medical care, and job placement.  But no such help was available for wrongfully convicted, exonerated persons at the time of Montgomery’s release. When he got out, Montgomery said, “I got nothing . . . the prosecutor told me, ‘Good luck.’”

In March 2017, the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act went into effect, making Michigan the 32nd state to offer compensation to persons who were wrongfully convicted and then exonerated.  The compensation is $50,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration, along with support services.  Montgomery may soon receive nearly $150,000 under the Act. He observed that some people think that $50,000 is too much; exonerated prisoners should be compensated “off of what they make.”  But Montgomery responded to people who might think that way:  “You don’t know what a person can make.  What they take from you is your potential. That’s what the payment is for, for your ability to grow.  You lost so many opportunities.” 

Montgomery’s story of persistence is inspirational.  And, although the beginning of his encounter with the justice system is disheartening, there is some inspiration to be found in the system’s ability to set things right – even when, as here, it comes nearly three years late.  We congratulate Mr. Montgomery, and his attorney Malika Ramsey-Heath, on Montgomery’s exoneration.  We wish him the very best as he grows and blooms and reclaims his life.

You can listen to Konrad Montgomery’s full interview at:

By:  John Zevalking, Associate Editor, Criminal Defense Newsletter