Michael Hash was found guilty of 1st degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in Culpeper County Virginia, 2001. He was only 19 years-old the day of his conviction and still a boy of 15 years-old when victim, 74 year-old Thelma Scroggins was robbed and murdered in her home.
Michael would spend eleven years behind bars before his conviction was overturned in February of 2012. The case was thrown out when it became clear the conviction was based entirely on bad lawyering, snitch testimony and outrageous police and prosecutorial misconduct.
We want to take a minute to point out that Culpeper County, Virginia is a very short distance (35 miles) from Prince William County, Virginia where Justin Wolfe was convicted. Oddly enough, Justin's case was built on the same mixture of a very young defendant, bad lawyering, snitch testimony and prosecutorial misconduct. Coincidence?
Another strange 'coincidence' is that the investigator responsible for Michael's arrest, Lee Hart, was also an investigator in the well known wrongful conviction of Earl Washington. Earl was sentenced to death and came within days of losing his life before being cleared and exonerated by DNA. There's another man by the name of Robert Davis, close by in Albemarle, Virginia. Robert has been in prison for the last ten years based on the highly likely 'false confession' he gave as a teenager. Virginia is very well known for its 'high-profile' false confession cases. Think as you may, there's no denying the patterns that are laid out before us when examining these cases. It seems obvious that the State of Virginia has an alarming, very dangerous combination of high rates of (proven and believed) wrongful convictions while always holding a top spot in States carrying out executions for death penalty cases. If there are many 'known' cases of wrongful conviction in the State, can you imagine how many are actually out there? How many cases of wrongful conviction were the prisoner doesn't have an army on the outside fighting for them, could there possibly be? It seems very likely that the number could be larger than anyone could have ever estimated.
After the robbery and murder of Thelma Scroggins, officers investigated and believed it appeared as if there was one perpetrator. They noted that Thelma's truck and purse were taken but were both found a month later hidden in an area covered by woods. Though there were a few 'people of interest' and a few leads, nothing substantial was found and the case went cold.
Michael, a 15 year-old teenage boy at the time probably didn't even know much, if anything, about the case.
The very questionable Alesia Shelton, also Michael's cousin, was convicted for robbery and shooting a gun off at her victims front door. After her conviction Alesia went to investigators and told them her cousin Michael Hash and his two friends Jason Kloby and Eric Weakley were responsible for robbing and killing Thelma Scroggins. Despite the fact that there was no evidence what so ever, supporting this and Alesia Shelton was clearly of questionable character, investigators, rather Lee Hart had his mark and it was go time.
After police interrogation and some good old fashioned bargaining, Eric agreed to testify for the state in trials for Michael and Jason. Jason being the only adult at the time of the murder was facing punishment by death. Luckily for Jason the jury wasn't fooled by this obvious lack of evidence and he was found innocent after just a couple of hours and cleared of all charges. He also had a slew of witnesses that testified Jason was out of state when the crime occurred, so it's unclear as to why investigators didn't find this information important.
Jason's acquittal didn't change the minds of officials however. In fact they became even more focused on the win in Michael's trial; and they had a few tricks up their sleeves this time around.
Michael was tried and found guilty by a jury of his peers and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The evidence used against him was almost the same as the evidence presented in Jason's trial. For his 'cooperation' Eric plead guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years with all but six of those years suspended.
The new evidence introduced at Michael's trial was witness testimony of known 'Jail House snitch', Paul Carter that by 'coincidence' ended up in the same prison as Michael, twice.
Michael's defense attorney also failed him by missing key points that could have been easily proven. One major miss was his failure to uncover and disclose the fact that 'snitch' Paul Carter, had testified in trials for over 20 major convictions.
After a failed appeal in 2010 Michael's defense filed a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus based on inadequate legal defense. They also charged that Paul Carter had testified in over 20 major convictions and he'd also written close to 30 letters asking for sentence reduction and claiming Prosecutor Gary Close had promised to help in exchange for his testimony.
February of 2012 Michael's conviction is vacated by a Federal Judge and a new trial is ordered.While giving his decision the Judge states the following:
"there is a cavalcade of evidence demonstrating outrageous police and prosecutorial misconduct as well as a failure of Hash’s trial lawyers to adequately investigate the case and present a defense based on an alternative suspect."
The federal judge went further by listing the following disturbing points in Michael's conviction.
Thirteen days after the federal judges ruling, State Prosecutor Gary Close stepped down from his position and the very next day Michael Hash was released from prison pending his new trial.
Five months later in August of 2012, all charges against Michael were dismissed. There would be no second trial!
The Good With the Bad
We thought it important to mention while researching Michael's wrongful conviction case, we came across an article about Albemarle County, Virginia Sheriff J.E. “Chip” Harding. Chip Harding is canvassing law enforcement leaders across the state gauging support for a government-backed commission to help prevent wrongful convictions.
Another 'coincidence', this time good, after reading John Grisham's 'The Innocent Man', Chip Harding was so moved that he vowed to do what he could to help and become more involved with the Innocence Project.
Earl Washington, Jr
Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project
The National Registry of Exoneration's
Clemency petition: Fugetts recant; Davis still in prison
Deal or No Deal? The Struggle With Jailhouse Snitches
Outrageous misconduct': Hash sues Culpeper prosecutor, sheriff
Justin Wolfe- Story of Drugs, Violence, Politics and Prosecutorial Misconduct
Va. man Michael Wayne Hash has murder charges dismissed after 12 years in prison
Article written by Lisa Wallace
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