Charlottesville Attorney: Sheriff Says Little on Hash Case

SHERIFF SAYS LITTLE

Culpeper sheriff holds forum on Hash case but cannot offer much informationunder special prosecutor’s advice

BY DONNIE JOHNSTON
Date published: 3/19/2012
BY DONNIE JOHNSTON 
Themore than 200 people who attended CulpeperCounty Sheriff Scott Jenkins’ news conference and citizen forumSunday afternoon had been promised answers concerning the initial investigationof Thelma Scroggins’ slaying. 
They not only didn’t get answers,many walked away more confused than when they arrived on the courthouse lawn.
Jenkins’ decision to open up aboutthe controversial case was nipped in the bud Friday when he received ahand-delivered letter from special prosecutor Ray Morrogh advising him toremain silent.
“Please be advised that Judge[Jay T.] Swett clearly admonished counsel for both the Commonwealth and thedefendant that this case is not to be tried in the newspapers,” Morrogh’sletter reads.
It added that any public commentcould jeopardize Michael Wayne Hash’s right to a fair trial if he is indeedretried in the 1996 murder of the 74-year-old Scroggins.
Hash, now 31, was arrested on acapital murder charge in May 2000, nearly four years after Scroggins was foundshot to death inside her home in the Lignum community in eastern Culpeper County.
He was sentenced to life in prisonwithout the possibility of parole. But last month, after years of doggedefforts by Hash’s mother and a series of attorneys, a federal judge vacatedHash’s conviction with a ruling that harshly criticized law enforcementofficials.
On Sunday, Jenkins, in a 15-minutespeech, made it clear that he would abide by the special prosecutor’sinstructions.
“This case is not closed,”he said. “As soon as I am allowed, I will give you details and answer yourquestions.”
Jenkins also reminded the crowd thatfederal Judge James C. Turk’s Feb. 28 decision to set aside Hash’s capitalmurder conviction was a writ of habeas corpus (Hash was being wrongly held) andnot an overturning by appeal of the 2001 conviction.
That habeas decision means thatwhile Hash’s initial conviction was thrown out, the state still has the rightto try him again. That decision will rest with Morrogh.
Here Jenkins’ statement becameconfusing. While he told the crowd he had cooperated with Hash’s attorney for severalyears, he also said that Turk had heard only one side of the story, that partpresented by Hash’s attorney.

“The judge made that decision without hearing from the otherside,” Jenkins said, referring to those who investigated and prosecutedthe case.

Jenkins, who was elected sheriff in November, was one of the leadinvestigators on the high-profile case back in 2000 when he served underSheriff Lee Hart.

“I have never seen Judge Turk,” Jenkins added. “I don’t arguewith his decision; I am just allowing the process to continue.”

That process could lead to Jenkins re-investigating and re-charging Hash,who was released on $10,000 unsecured bond last Wednesday and is free for thefirst time in 12 years.

Jenkins also said that Turk was asked to deal with a case file “that istaller than I am” and difficult to understand.

Turk’s opinion was highly critical of both the investigative process thatbrought charges against Hash and two other teenagers–Jason Kloby and EricWeakley–and the prosecution tactics of Commonwealth’s Attorney Gary Close’soffice.

Close resigned under pressure the day before Hash was released from custody,and there have been calls for Jenkins’ resignation.

In his own defense, Jenkins told the audience: “Nothing I did wasunethical, and I have nothing to hide.”
Turk’s opinion suggested, however, that Weakley was fed facts that led himto confess and turn state’s evidence, and that Hash was intentionallytransferred from Culpeper to Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail so hecould be housed in the same cellblock with jailhouse snitch Paul Carter. Carterbecame a key witness for the prosecution in Hash’s trial.

Among those in attendance at Sunday’s news conference and forum were DierdreEnright, Matthew Engle and several students associated with the InnocenceProject of the University of Virginia School of Law.
Enright and Engle are working with Weakley to help him prove his innocence.Weakley served part of a 15-year sentence after pleading guilty tosecond-degree murder and is now free.

“I’d like to see [Jenkins] stop saying that only one side wasrepresented [to Judge Turk] in this case,” said Engle.

“[Judge Turk] saw information that was not even presented at thetrial,” said Enright. “He was more informed. As for the head-highfile, it was not that hard to comprehend. These law students understoodit.”
Also in attendance were the parents of Kevin Wesley Beahm, who was convictedin 1996 of the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Christine Jenkins, and is serving alife sentence.

Given the recent turn of events, including Close’s resignation, Donna Beahmis asking the Innocence Project of U.Va. to pursue her son’s case.

Jenkins was not involved in Beahm’s conviction.

Before Sunday’s gathering, Jenkins had deputies hand out copies of Morrogh’sletter to make it clear why he could not comment further.

The sheriff ended his speech much as he began it.

“I assure you that my actions [in the Hash case] were professional andethical.”

Tucker Griffin Barnes P.C.
Charlottesville, VA
434-973-7474

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