Michael Hash, who served nearly 12 years in prison before U.S. District Court Judge James C. Turk granted his release on a Habeas Corpus ruling, has filed a lawsuit in federal district court in which he is seeking damages to be awarded—as reported in The Free Lance-Star of Fredricksburg (here)—“in such amounts as the Court and jury find fair and reasonably supported by the evidence and that will deter such conduct by defendants in the future.” Hash has asked for a jury trial.
The defendants named in the lawsuit are former Culpeper (VA) County Commonwealth’s Attorney Gary Close; three Culpeper Sheriff Investigators, Scott Jenkins, James Mack, and Bruce Cave; jailer Mary Peters Dwyer, and a convict, Paul Carter, who testified against Hash.
This blog followed the case closely in numerous posts. Hash was convicted in 2001 of the murder of 74-year-old Thelma Scroggins. He was 15 years old at the time of the crime and 19 when accused. He was sentenced to life without parole. However, last February, Judge Turk tossed out the conviction concluding, “the Court is disturbed by the miscarriage of justice that occurred in this case and finds that Hash’s trial is an example of an ‘extreme malfunction’ in the state criminal justice system.”1
As reported in an earlier post on this blog, a Washington Post article (here) summed up Judge Turk’s February ruling:
“In February, Senior U.S. District Judge James Turk ruled that Hash was being wrongly held and that he had satisfied the legal standard for actual innocence. Turk cited problems with the investigation, the prosecution and Hash’s trial counsel, including the acknowledgment late last year by former Culpeper County sheriff Lee Hart and then-Commonwealth’s Attorney Gary Close that Hash had been moved to another jail in order to expose him to a known informant; that investigators had provided crime-scene information to at least one witness and guided answers to their questions; that two witnesses had failed polygraph tests and one had since recanted his testimony; and that there is significant evidence that another suspect may have committed the crime.”
The once-popular Culpeper district attorney Gary Close, who had been elected to his sixth term in office, resigned soon after the ruling.
No physical evidence connected Hash to the crime and five people testified at trial that he was elsewhere during the crime.
In August 2012 Raymond F. Morrough, the Fairfax (VA) commonwealth’s attorney appointed special prosecutor in the case declined to retry Hash. As reported (here), he said, “At this point we just don’t have sufficient evidence to bring anyone to trial. As far as I’m concerned we’re taking a fresh look at this case — this murder, this killing.”
The alleged misconduct in this case will likely be aired in the lawsuit, and a judge or jury will be challenged to put a price on the damage to Michael Hash. As in all wrongful convictions, the rippling impact of damages in the lives of the Hash family, the Scroggins family, and potential victims of a killer who remains unidentified are difficult to estimate.
1 Harrington, 131 S. Ct. at 786 (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 332 n.5 (1979)