Murder charges were dropped Monday against a Virginia man who has been fighting to clear his name since he was first convicted in 2001.
Michael Hash was released from prison last March after a federal court judge called the case against him an "extreme malfunction in the state criminal justice system."
The case has touched a nerve in Culpeper where the Commonwealth's Attorney resigned after Judge James Turk ordered Hash freed and told the county it had six months to decide on a retrial.
"I've waited so long, so long, and it's so great to have him home, and I said I wasn't going to cry today," said Pam Hash, Michael's mother.
Pam hugged her son outside the Culpeper County Courthouse after Special Prosecutor Ray Morrogh said there was insufficient evidence to take the case to trial.
Hash was serving life without parole when he was released.
"The decision today, if anything, validates what we've said all along," said former defendant Michael Hash. "I'm innocent. There has never been any credible evidence against me and I'm just glad someone else realizes that."
Michael Hash and two others, Eric Weakley and Jason Kloby, were accused in the July 1996 murder of Thelma Scroggins, who was found shot to death inside her Lignum home.
Kloby was acquitted while Weakley cut a deal and testified against Michael Hash.
Weakley now says he lied and has apologized to Hash.
"There was a time where I probably wouldn't have forgiven him for what he did, but at the same time, like I said, he is human, he made a mistake," said Hash. "I'm not going to judge him for what he did."
Morrogh, the Commonwealth's Attorney in Fairfax, says he's developed no new suspects and the evidence against Hash isn't there.
"Truly at this point, I didn't have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Hash did this murder, so it's not right to hold him on an indictment under those conditions," said Morrogh.
A second man, Paul Carter, a jailhouse snitch, also testified against Hash, saying the then 19-year-old confessed while the two were locked up together. Morrogh says he has re-interviewed the man, but wouldn't reveal whether he too has recanted.
For Pam Hash, Monday's result was worth the wait.
"It totally consumed our life for 12 years, but I would do exactly the same thing again," she said.
Another person singled out for criticism by the judge was Scott Jenkins, one of the lead investigators in the case. Jenkins is now the sheriff. He has defended himself in the past, but on Monday through a spokesperson, he declined to comment.
Statement from Sheriff Scott H. Jenkins regarding judicial proceedings on Aug. 20, 2012
Today's action by the special prosecutor, Raymond Morrogh, was part of the judicial process. By taking a few media reports at face value, today, many citizens believed that this investigation was finished, or, that Mr. Hash can't be prosecuted after the six-month deadline given by Judge James Turk. That is not the case. This is an active murder investigation into the death of Lignum resident, Thelma Scroggins, in 1996.
From the beginning of this process, I have taken issue with Judge Turk's 65-page opinion. Unfortunately, it is impossible to discuss the opinion without discussing details of the investigation. My silence has not been an effort to avoid this subject, or hide anything from the public, but rather a necessity given the circumstances.
What some may forget is that Mr. Hash's fate was determined by a sheriff and commonwealth attorney's review, a hearing by grand jury, a trial jury, an appeals court, and then the Virginia Supreme Court. In 2001, Hash had two defense attorneys certified to represent defendants on murder charges. Those defense attorneys were provided with hours of video-recorded interviews, all reports and statements and the jury heard direct testimony from witnesses and co-defendants. The trial was conducted without my presence or that of other investigators, except during a very brief point when we were questioned.
It is my belief that the media has solely focused on the opinions of one man–Judge Turk–and has taken his opinion at face value, despite my inability to comment on this case. This is unfortunate because Judge Turk did not have the benefit of hearing directly from the prosecutor of the case, the defense attorneys, the investigators or witnesses. I would respectfully ask that the media educate citizens on the actual process of the civil proceeding overseen by Judge Turk.
There is much more to the story than Judge Turk's opinion, but I won't defend my actions at this time and jeopardize an open murder investigation. This won't be the first time citizens in Culpeper will learn, much later down the road, that what I have been saying was true all along.
I appreciate all of the support that I've been shown in the past few months. I'm confident that the citizens of Culpeper will give this case time to be resolved and they will wait for the other side of the story.
Our focus now, and always has been, to seek justice for Thelma Scroggins and we will continue to assist Fairfax authorities as needed.
-Scott H. Jenkins, Sheriff, Culpeper County, Va.
WTTG FOX 5 & myfoxdc
Didn't find what you were looking for?