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Charges against Michael Hash nolle prossed
RELATED: Hash ponders readjusting to freedom
BY DONNIE JOHNSTON
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Michael Hash walked out of Culpeper County Circuit Court today a free man.
Special prosecutor Raymond Morrogh requested that Judge Susan Whitlock nolle prosse a 2000 murder charge against the 32-year-old Hash who spent 12 years in jail after being convicted of killing 74-year-old Thelma Scroggins, who was found shot to death in her Lignum home in July of 1996.
“At this point we have insufficient evidence to prosecute Mr. Hash or anyone else in the matter,” Morrogh told the court.
Morrogh’s decision comes eight days before a deadline set by federal Judge James C. Turk who granted a habeas corpus on Feb. 28 and ordered that authorities had six months to either retry Hash or set him free.
Hash was one of three young men who were charged in connection with Scroggins’ death. A jury found Jason Kloby not guilty and Eric Weakley, who turned state’s evidence, was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to a second-degree murder charge.
Hash was sentenced to life without parole.
Morrogh’s “nolle prosse” motion does not mean that charges against Hash are dropped, only that they are put on hold indefinitely. Should evidence surface in the future that implicates Hash in the murder, the charges could be refiled.
The double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not apply in this case since neither the jury nor the federal court ruled Hash not guilty.
Morrogh, however, said after the court proceeding that at this point he has no intention of ever bringing Hash back to court on these or any other charges.
“In fairness to Mr. Hash, it is time to release him,” the special prosecutor, who is commonwealth’s attorney for Fairfax County, said. “He is now presumed innocent and a totally free individual.”
Hash, who has been free on his own recognizance since early March, said he was happy with today’s decision although “it’s not the best possible outcome.” He had hoped that the charges would be dropped altogether.
The special prosecutor’s decision comes after a five-month investigation of the Scroggins murder during which he said 40 witnesses have been interviewed. Hash was not among those interviewed, Morrogh added.
He also noted that he and his investigators had gone over all the old evidence gathered by the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office (then headed by Sheriff Lee Hart) that had led to the 2000 charges as well as the transcripts of Hash’s trial.
While Morrogh would not comment on any DNA or other forensic evidence that was analyzed during the current investigation, defense attorney Matthew Bosher said that, to his knowledge, nothing has been found that in any way connects Hash to the crime.
Morrogh, however, did not say whether or not Hash remains a suspect in Scroggins’ murder. He only said stated that “I’m here to try to solve the murder of Thelma Scroggins and that “Like every murder, it’s a high priority. We’ll never give up.”
The special prosecutor has had posters placed in the Lignum area (where Scroggins lived and was killed) asking anyone with information on the case to come forward.
“We’ve gotten some new information,” Morrogh said although he would not elaborate on what that might be.
Turk based his habeas corpus ruling on the fact that Culpeper authorities had violated Hash’s rights. In particular the judge said that former Commonwealth’s Attorney Gary Close had made a deal with Paul Carter, a convicted felon and a known jailhouse snitch.
Close, who abruptly resigned under pressure two weeks after the federal ruling was issued, denied that he ever promised to seek leniency for Carter in exchange for his testimony against Hash.
“Having reviewed the voluminous record in this case, the court is disturbed by the miscarriage of justice in this case and finds that Hash’s trial is an example of an ‘extreme malfunction’ in the state criminal justice system,” Turk wrote in his opinion.
Both Close and current Sheriff Scott Jenkins, who was the lead investigator on the case in 2000, have stated publicly that it was Sheriff Hart who pushed the charges against the three boys despite the fact there was no forensic evidence whatsoever linking them to the gruesome crime.
Hash would not say whether or not he would now file civil suits against the Culpeper authorities who charged him.
“He’s leaving all his options open,” said Bosher.
Donnie Johnston: email@example.com