Hash gains independence
Credit: Jeff Say
Michael Wayne Hash has his shackles removed after being released Wednesday.
By: | Culpeper Star Exponent
Published: March 15, 2012
Michael Wayne Hash is a free man after spending the last 12 years behind bars.
At a bond hearing Wednesday in Culpeper County Circuit Court that lasted less than five minutes, Judge Jay T. Swett granted a $10,000 unsecured bond.
“It feels good – long time coming,” said an unshackled Hash from the back of an Albemarle County Sheriff’s Office cruiser as he departed Culpeper en-route to the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, where he was officially let go.
Asked what his first meal as a free man would be, Hash, 31, said, “Something home-cooked, that’s for sure. Nothing processed.”
Imprisoned since being arrested by Culpeper authorities in May of 2000 in the 1996 death of church organist Thelma Scroggins, Hash – formerly of Culpeper – was found guilty of capital murder in February 2001 and sentenced to life in prison. He was 19 at the time.
Late last month, a federal judge overturned Hash’s conviction, citing extreme police and prosecutorial misconduct by Culpeper authorities in investigating and trying the case. In his 65-page opinion, Senior U.S. District Court Judge James Turk listed numerous examples that evidence used in his conviction was “brought about by methods that offend a sense of justice.”
Hash maintained his innocence from the start. For the past decade his mom, Pam Hash, worked tirelessly in conjunction with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project in Washington, D.C. to set her son free.
“I am hoping to take him back home,” said Mrs. Hash prior to Wednesday’s bond hearing. “It’s hard for me because I still think he’s 19.”
Jeff Hash, Michael’s father, said they always felt confident their son would be released.
“That’s why we fought for 12 years,” he said.
The federal judge gave authorities six months to retry Hash or set him free for good. Special prosecutor Raymond F. Morrogh, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney will make that decision. He was present in Culpeper Circuit Court Wednesday.
In addition to the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, Matthew Bosher of Hunton & Williams has represented Hash logging more than 2,000 pro bono hours on the case.
Prior to Wednesday’s hearing, Bosher and Morrogh reached an agreement on the terms of Hash’s release. Among the terms, Hash must attend any and all hearings in the continuing case, reside at the home of his parents in Crozet, not leave the state without special permission from the court, report weekly to the OAR-Jefferson Area Community Corrections program in Charlottesville, keep the peace and be on good behavior.
Judge Swett said that “looking at the totality of the circumstances” he felt it appropriate to release Hash pending Morrogh’s determination. The case will be called for review April 16 at 9:30 a.m. in Culpeper County Circuit Court.
“We’re really happy that Mike’s going home with his family tonight and are looking forward to working with the special prosecutor,” said Shawn Armbrust, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project after the hearing.
Special prosecutor Morrogh said after the hearing that he did not object to Hash’s release.
“I thought it was a fair thing to do under all the circumstances,” he said.
Morrogh said he did not think he would be ready to make his final determination by the April 16 hearing, but said it is a possibility.
“There is just a lot of material, a lot of allegations back and forth,” he said. “Essentially I’m investigating the case – I have to look at the investigation, and that’s going to take some time. We are going to work as diligently as we can until we reach whatever (decision) we’re going to reach.”
Former longtime Culpeper County Commonwealth’s Attorney Gary Close was prosecutor in the original trying of the capital murder case against Hash in 2000. One of the lead investigators was Scott Jenkins, current Culpeper County Sheriff. Close resigned Monday amid the controversy saying that although he was inclined to fight back he was now a distraction to law enforcement in Culpeper County.
Jenkins has maintained he did nothing wrong in investigating the case under former Sheriff Lee Hart.
But according to the federal judge’s opinion, tactics used by Culpeper authorities in the case against Hash – and two other defendants allegedly involved in the 1996 murder – included using known perjured testimony in court, not disclosing key evidence to the defense, sharing crime scene evidence with witnesses and coaching their testimony. Local authorities also orchestrated the transfer of Hash from the Culpeper jail to the jail in Albemarle so as to expose him to a prolific prison informant who also lied in court.
No physical evidence ever tied Hash to the Scroggins’ murder and, in fact, the initial investigation found that a single person did the crime – not the three teenagers who stood trial.
In a recent deposition included as part of the federal opinion, Jenkins admitted he had doubts from the beginning that three teenage boys killed Scroggins and that the CCSO investigation was mishandled. He said at this point in his career, “I would do it differently.”
Sheriff Jenkins made his presence known in the court proceedings Wednesday, and even approached Hash outside the jail upon his release. Jenkins and Hash talked for several minutes and at one point Hash could be heard saying, “I appreciate it.” The two men shook hands twice.
Numerous green-colored fliers, posted by order of Sheriff Jenkins, were displayed around the courthouse courtyard Wednesday referencing Tuesday’s Star-Exponent article about Close resigning. The flyer quoted local attorney Butch Davies, who strongly blamed the local newspaper for the commonwealth’s attorney stepping down.
Highlighted on Jenkins’ flyer with a box drawn around it was the following quote, “It is the legal process at work, not a scandal,” Davies said. “What you have done is a real disservice to the community.”
Jenkins has refused to meet with the Star-Exponent to explain his role in the Hash investigation.
Albemarle Sheriff J.E. “Chip” Harding, who aided in Hash’s release and exposure of the truth in the case, has made it a point to stay by his side during the latest turn of events. Harding transported Hash to Culpeper Wednesday saying, “He is always quiet and very polite.”
The Albemarle Sheriff previously said he hopes “the process works its way out fast.”
“This is a very emotional time for Michael,” Harding said last week upon transferring Hash from jail in Nottoway. “We just left his parents and can you imagine what they’re going through, knowing that their child has been locked up and been innocent for 12 years and missed a lot of his early adulthood?”
Harding said he would like to see Hash released before a golf tournament to benefit the sheriff’s office, planned for May 17.
“I hope he can be my guest of honor,” he said.
Pam Hash brought along a change of clothes for her son just in case he was released directly from Culpeper.
“A couple of weeks ago we redid his room,” she said. “I’m hoping what I brought will fit after all these years.”
A small crowd of Hash’s family eagerly awaited his release in the hot afternoon sun outside the main entrance of Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail Wednesday. Several of Hash’s nieces held signs welcoming him home.
“I thought it was the appropriate ruling. I felt that it was very favorable, that the special prosecutor agreed with Michael’s attorneys and allowed bond,” Albemarle County Sheriff J.E. “Chip” Harding said in a phone interview later in the afternoon.
The family was happy, smiling and talkative as they anxiously waited for Hash to be formally let go.
“We’re overwhelmed with joy. It’s not even sunk in yet,” Jeff Hash, Michael Hash’s father, said. “I think as each day goes along its going to get better and better.”
Michael Hash was finally released at around 4:30 p.m.
He seemed pleased but overwhelmed as he stepped out of the sheriff department’s car wearing khaki slacks and a blue-striped collared shirt.
His mother, who had taken her shoes off after spending the afternoon on her feet, ran across the jail’s parking lot and wrapped her arms around her son. She kissed him on the cheek as Jeff Hash joined in the hug.
Hash warmly greeted each member of his family.
“You’re getting big. I can’t even pick you up hardly,” he told one of his nieces, Sabrina Hash, as she jumped into his arms.
“I’m glad to be home after 12 years,” Hash told a crowd of reporters outside of the jail.
“It’s very emotional for me. It’s very gratifying to see this day come for him,” Harding commented.
After just a few moments, Hash and his mother, father and nieces got in a tan Buick LeSabre and drove off.
Hash had plans to see his grandmother later Wednesday night, his father said.
Daily Progress reporter Samantha Koon contributed to this artcle.
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