Michael Wayne Hash comes home after being freed from prison by judge
In the quiet town of Culpeper, the murder conviction of Michael Hash is a case many have talked about for years.
But new information about a federal judge’s ruling overturning that conviction has left many people concerned.
"I do believe the local judicial system is broken", says David Roberts, a life-long Culpeper resident.
With his murder conviction thrown out, 31-year-old Hash is a free man -- after spending 12 years in prison. He was freed on a $10,000 unsecured bond last Wednesday.
"I'm glad to be back home after twelve years", Hash told reporters. "It's been a long, drawn-out ordeal."
His release follows a scathing ruling issued in last February.
In that ruling, federal judge James Turk overturned Hash’s 2001 capital murder conviction, calling it a ‘miscarriage of justice’ – citing police and prosecutorial misconduct.
"Clearly, Michael Hash is innocent and clearly, Judge Turk made the right decision, and corrected a grave injustice," says Matthew Engle, an attorney representing Eric Weakley, a co-defendant in the case, Eric Weakly.
The case made headlines when Hash, Weakly, and a third man, Jason Kloby, were arrested and accused in the 1996 shooting and beating death of a 74-year-old woman in her Lignum home.
A jury would later find Kloby innocent under the term of a plea agreement. Weakley served a nearly nine-year prison sentence.
Residents like Darlene Brown were outraged by the murder, but also disturbed with the notion that Hash may have been wrongly convicted.
"You got to get to the root of it," she told ABC7. "You got to hear both sides. It's all about evidence, it's all about information."
In his ruling, Turk was sharply critical that police and prosecutors used a jailhouse snitch whose testimony was false and that prosecutors never produce evidence to Hash’s attorney to the defense.
Turk also criticized the fact that Weakley, who testified against Hash, was fed details of the murder by police – ‘given to me during interviews,’ he said.
Culpeper County sheriff Scott Jenkins, the lead investigator in the case, is denying any wrongdoing.
"Nothing I have ever done in that investigation is unethical, and I have nothing to hide", he told Culpeper residents, gathered outside the county courthouse Sunday.
Jenkins, warned by court officials to not discuss the case, said he would abide by that order. But he did call the ruling one-sided, saying he, nor his officers, had ever spoken with Judge Turk.
Jenkins says he cooperated fully with investigators, including answering questions for hours at court depositions.
"Many have formed an opinion that I've done something unethical or illegal in the investigation. I have not", he declared.
Still, in this tight-knit community, there is skepticism and concern, about justice being done.
Kwesi Joseph says if the misconduct allegations are true, the responsible parties should be prosecuted.
"I think that's deplorable that a young man pretty much lost 12 years of his life" he says.
Tuesday, Culpeper County Commonwealth's Attorney Gary Close resigned in the face of the judge's ruling and public opinion. He had been re-elected to a sixth term in November. Jenkins insists he will not.
But this matter is not over for Hash. A special prosecutor still has six month to decide whether the case should be retired.
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