Culpeper Prosecutor Resigns After Judge's Accusations

March 13, 2012

Culpeper County's commonwealth's attorney said Monday he would resign after a federal judge accused him and police of misconduct in the capital murder conviction of a man serving a life sentence for the slaying of an elderly woman.

Commonwealth's Attorney Gary Close hand-delivered a letter to the Star-Exponent announcing his resignation, effective Tuesday.

"It is not an easy decision," the letter said. "My inclination is to fight back. But in the final analysis, I do not think a protracted battle is good for the office of commonwealth's attorney or for Culpeper County."

U.S. District Judge James C. Turk last month overturned Michael Wayne Hash's 2001 capital murder conviction and life sentence, citing prosecutorial and police misconduct and an inadequate defense. Hash was one of three people charged in the 1996 death of 74-year-old Thelma Scroggins, who was beaten and shot. Hash was 15 at the time.

"Having reviewed the voluminous record in this case, 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,'" Turk concluded.

Turk ruled that Hash must be retried within six months or set free. A special prosecutor — Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond F. Morrough — will make that decision.

Close was elected to his sixth term in November.

The lead investigator on the case was Scott Jenkins, who now serves as Culpeper County's sheriff. Jenkins on Monday declined to comment on Close's resignation. In a statement released Friday, Jenkins said he will make all files and evidence available to the special prosecutor this week and that he has and will continue to cooperate with investigators.

Scroggins was shot multiple times in her home in July 1996. In 2000, Hash and two other men — Eric Glenn Weakley and Jason Lee Kloby — were arrested.

There was no physical evidence tying Hash to the crime, but prosecutors relied on testimony from Weakley and two others, including a jailhouse snitch, to convict him.

Weakley accepted a plea in the case, serving nearly seven years, while a Culpeper jury found Kloby innocent.

In an affidavit cited by Turk, Jenkins says he had "serious concerns" about Hash's conviction.

"Based on the evidence at the crime scene, I believe it is highly unlikely that three teenage boys murdered Mrs. Scroggins," Jenkins said in the statement.

Turk faulted Culpeper authorities for using a jailhouse snitch who told the jury Hash confessed to the murder but then lied in testimony about his history as a jailhouse informant and about a deal in which authorities said they would attempt to get his sentence on federal drug charges reduced in exchange for his testimony.

Turk said Close also failed to disclose a deal with Weakley, who testified against Hash and in exchange his charge was reduced from capital murder to second-degree murder. Weakley has since recanted his testimony, saying Culpeper authorities gave him the details about the slaying.

Authorities also were accused of withholding a polygraph examination that showed Weakley was deceptive when he gave details of the killing.

Weakley's attorneys have said they will seek a pardon from the governor.

"Considering the cavalcade of evidence that Hash has come forward with demonstrating police and prosecutorial misconduct, which stands largely uncontested . Hash has made a sufficient showing of misconduct to find the investigation violated his due process rights and warrants relief," Turk wrote.

Hash was transferred to a regional jail in Albemarle on Friday so he could be closer to his family in Crozet while Morrough examines his case. A bond hearing for Hash will be held Wednesday at Culpeper County Circuit Court.

"It's long overdue," Hash told the newspaper as he arrived at the jail Friday. "I'm ecstatic that I'm taking this step. It's unfortunate it's taken this long, but I'm happy that it's finally reached this point."

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