Hash, Culpeper officials settle suit
Sixteen months of legal battles are finally over in a civil suit filed by a wrongly convicted man against Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins, former Commonwealth’s Attorney Gary Close and other law enforcement officials.
A motion was filed late Monday in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville seeking to dismiss Michael Wayne Hash’s civil suit against Jenkins, Close, investigators James Mack and Bruce Cave, and Mary Peters Dwyer, who was employed at the Culpeper jail when Hash was incarcerated there in 2000.
Hash, who spent 12 years in prison after being convicted of murder in the 1996 death of 74-year-old Thelma Scroggins of Lignum, filed the suit in January 2013. He alleged that the Jenkins, Close and the others conspired to have him moved from Culpeper to the Central Virginia Regional Jail in Albemarle County so inmate Paul Carter could solicit a confession from him.
Carter, who testified against Hash in his trial, was also part of the civil suit and also part of the order of dismissal, which had not been signed by Judge Glen Conrad as of Tuesday.
Carter’s dismissal was termed “without prejudice,” meaning it could be raised again. The dismissal of the case against the other five was termed “with prejudice,” ending the lawsuit.
Chris Newton of Anderson and Peake, attorneys for the law enforcement defendants, issued a statement that said, “[The defendants] state that, in hindsight, this case should have been handled differently and they do not know whether Michael Hash committed the crime for which he was charged.”
Matthew Bosher, the 34-year-old Hash’s attorney, released a statement from Hash that read: “The civil rights lawsuit I filed against five Culpeper law enforcement officials has now been resolved. I am very happy to have the case resolved and I’m looking forward to moving on with my life.
“I want to thank my family and friends for standing by me through everything and for never doubting me. I am also grateful to the members of the community in Culpeper who had the courage to come forward and tell the truth about my case.”
Bosher would not say whether a financial settlement was part of the resolution. Hash had sought unspecified damages, plus his attorney fees.
“This has been the most difficult thing I’ve had to face in my career,” Jenkins said Tuesday. “A police officer’s integrity before the court and the community is his most important asset and to have that in question for a couple of years is a tough thing for a cop to face.”
Close issued a statement saying, “A lot of prayers were answered and I am thankful to a loving God who sustained [Close’s wife] Linda and I through this ordeal.”
Hash, Jason Kloby and Eric Weakley were arrested in 2000 following an investigation by deputies, including Jenkins, Mack and Cave, under then-Sheriff Lee Hart, who vowed in campaign promises to crack the unsolved Scroggins case.
A jury found Kloby not guilty, but a second jury convicted the 19-year-old Hash and sentenced him to life in prison. Weakley, who turned state’s evidence, was convicted on a lesser charge.
Hash’s parents, Pam and Jeff Hash, fought for 12 years to get their son a new trial. Finally, in late February 2012, federal Judge James C. Turk set aside Hash’s verdict and sharply criticized Culpeper authorities.
“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 order.
Close resigned within days of Hash’s release. Jenkins, who had just taken office as sheriff Jan. 1 of that year, decided to remain in office.
“This case has taken an enormous amount of my time and caused me many sleepless nights,” Jenkins said. “There were times when I questioned my faith in the justice system, but I found that it made my faith in God stronger.”
And he added, “I’m trying to find the positive in all this. Now, at least, we can move forward and not be so distracted.”
A special prosecutor refused to try Hash again. Fairfax County police, who were assigned in 2012 to reopen the Scroggins case, have reported no new developments in their investigation.