James Montgomery Was Jailed For A Crime He Did Not Commit - 11/15/1923

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On this day in history, Mamie Snow, a white woman who lived in Waukegan, Illinois and was mentally unstable, accused ta black man named John Montgomery, who is a factory worker and homeowner, raped her. Following the report, Montgomery was immediately sentenced to prison, where he spent more than 25 years before the pronouncement was reversed and he was set free.

It was obvious from the start that Montgomery's trail does not seem right. The local Ku Klux Klan members (known for their extremism and white supremacy ideology) had been threatening his lawyer during the court hearings, and in 1923, after a weak defense and a trial that took not less than a day, James Montgomery was found guilty of the offense and sentenced to life imprisonment.

During his time in prison, Montgomery took law classes in an attempt to prove that he was innocent. After finishing his law studies, he was able to persuade Luis Kutner, a civil right attorney, to take up his case, which he did. While investigating the case, Kutner discovered that a medical report from Snow's hospital shows the woman was not raped, and there is a probability that she was a virgin. Investigating further, Kutner found evidence pointing towards a group of Klan members who were behind Montgomery's setup. The prosecutors also withheld the medical evidence from the defense. However, Jutner had to spend three years before he could get a verdict to overturn the pronouncement. In August 1949, Montgomery regained his freedom.

In addition, a case of unlawful imprisonment was common in Illinois as many innocent citizens were locked behind bars with little or no evidence to support their claim. Nonetheless, the state released eleven people who had been sentenced to death between 1977 and 1999 because they were innocent of the charges levied against them.

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