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Michael Hash

Other Virginia Cases with Perjury or False Accusation
On the morning of July 14, 1996, the body of 74-year-old Thelma Scroggins, a retired mail carrier and church organist, was found in her home in Lignum, Virginia. She had been shot four times in the head.

The first investigator concluded, based on crime scene evidence, that a single assailant had committed the crime. The victim’s purse was missing, as was her truck. The purse was found in the truck a month later in a wooded area.

A resident of the neighborhood, Billy Scott, came under suspicion because he had a .22-caliber rifle—the type of weapon believed used in the shooting—but he was not charged and the investigation went cold.

In late 1999, the investigation was reopened, and the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office questioned Alesia Shelton, who had been convicted of a robbery and shooting in which the victim survived. Shelton told deputies that her cousin, Michael Hash, had told her that he and two others, Jason Kloby and Eric Weakley, had killed Scroggins.

Shelton said that on the night of the murder, Hash and Kloby were talking about killing someone and how they were going to do it that night. She said that sometime later, Kloby told her that he and Hash had gone into the house and shot Scroggins. She said that Hash “nodded his head and said yes—yeah.”

During at least five interviews over several months, deputies questioned Weakley, who was 16 years old at the time of the murder. Finally, he gave a statement that said that at around 9 p.m. on July 13, 1996, he, Kloby, and Hash went to Scroggins’s house and asked for a cup of sugar. When Scroggins turned her back, Weakley said, she was attacked and beaten, then shot. Weakley said Hash shot her twice and Kloby then shot her twice more.

Weakley, now 20 years old, was arrested on May 16, 2000. Hash, now 19 years old but 15 at the time of the murder, was arrested on May 17, 2000. Kloby, now 22 years old, was arrested on May 18, 2000. Kloby faced the death penalty, but Weakley and Hash did not because they were juveniles at the time of the crime. They were still charged as adults.

Kloby went on trial in Culpeper County Circuit Court in October 2000. There was no physical evidence linking any of the defendants to the murder. Weakley gave his account of the murder and Shelton testified to Kloby’s admission.

Defense lawyers presented a parade of alibi witnesses who testified that Kloby was in Pennsylvania visiting his father on the day of the crime. On November 3, 2000, a jury acquitted Kloby after less than two hours of deliberation.

Hash went on trial before a jury in February 2001. Weakley again testified about how the crime occurred, and Shelton again testified about the conversation relating to killing an old woman and Hash’s admission to participating in the crime.

The prosecution also called Paul Carter, a convicted drug dealer serving a federal prison sentence, who testified that Hash confessed to the murder when they were both housed at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail after Hash was arrested.

Carter’s account of Hash’s confession had several inconsistencies with the actual facts of the case. He denied that he had been promised anything in exchange for testimony.

Hash testified in his own defense and admitted he had been present some months prior to the murder when Weakley and Kloby discussed committing a robbery, but denied any involvement in the Scroggins murder.

Hash said he was with a friend several miles away at the time of the crime. Numerous other witnesses confirmed his alibi.

During closing argument, Culpeper County Commonwealth Attorney Gary Close told the jury that Carter had not been promised any deal and that Carter was truthful when he denied there was any deal.

On February 9, 2001, the jury convicted Hash and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

On June 13, 2001, Weakley pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years. All but six years and eight months were suspended because of his cooperation with authorities. Weakley would later recall that when he entered his plea, the judge asked him whether he was guilty, and he replied, “No, I am not guilty of the crime.”

Hash’s appeals in state court failed. In April 2010, he filed a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. The petition alleged that Hash’s trial lawyers had failed to provide an adequate legal defense for a variety of reasons, including their failure to uncover that Carter had been an informant against at least 20 people in three federal prosecutions and that he had written more than two dozen letters seeking a sentence reduction in which he said prosecutor Close had promised to help. Ultimately, Carter’s 180-month prison term had been cut to 60 months, which allowed him to be released almost immediately.

Separately, as part of Hash’s habeas petition, his attorneys included a 2011 affidavit from Weakley, who had been released from prison in 2006. The affidavit said that he falsely confessed and then gave false testimony against Kloby and Hash.

Weakley said that after Shelton placed him at the crime scene, he met numerous times with Investigators Scott Jenkins and James Mack from the sheriff’s office. He said the officers showed him photos of the crime scene and provided him with details of the shooting. “All of the information I gave at trial about the crime scene was given to me during interviews with police and prosecutors,” he said.

Weakley said that the deputies gave him a polygraph test, which they said showed he had been present when Scroggins was shot.

“Eventually, after so many days and hours of being asked the same questions over and over again and being told that I was lying, my story changed,” Weakley said. “I then told Jenkins and Mack that I went to Ms. Scroggins’s house with Kloby and Hash and saw them kill her. Although this was not true, I had begun to believe that I must have been there because Jenkins and Mack wouldn't accept any other answer and the lie detector test said so. Once I finally said I had been there, Jenkins and Mack made me repeat the story back to them over and over again. They would keep repeating questions until I gave them an answer that satisfied them. After repeating this story over and over again, I began to believe it. Even though I didn’t remember these things, I thought that they must have been true.”

On February 28, 2012, Judge James Turk vacated Hash’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The judge found a “cavalcade of evidence” demonstrating outrageous police and prosecutorial misconduct as well as a failure of Hash’s trial lawyers to adequately investigate the case and present a defense based on an alternative suspect.

The judge ruled that Carter lied at the trial about not having a deal and that Close, the trial prosecutor, knew it. Close conceded that the statement was a lie and that his closing argument was misleading.

The judge found that Hash was intentionally moved from the Culpeper County Jail to be in the same unit with Carter, who was a well-known jailhouse snitch. The judge also found that the prosecution had failed to disclose a deal with Weakley for his testimony.

The judge ruled that the prosecution also failed to disclose that Weakley and Shelton both failed polygraph examinations regarding their statements implicating Hash. In addition, the judge noted that Hash’s lawyers developed further evidence suggesting that Scott—the initial suspect in the crime—was the actual killer.

During the habeas proceedings, the rifle that was seen in Scott’s home after the murder was tested and the results were that it was “not possible to definitively eliminate” the gun as the murder weapon.

The judge also found that Jenkins testified falsely at Hash’s trial when he said interviews with Weakley were not recorded. Those interview tapes were never provided to the defense.

In addition, Turk’s ruling also cast doubt on the truthfulness of Weakley’s confession. He said that while courts should view recantations suspiciously, that doesn’t mean that they are never credible. In Weakley’s case, there was evidence that investigators fed him facts of the case.

For example, Weakley first told investigators that Scroggins was shot in the chest and head. “It was not until Investigator Jenkins asked the same question approximately five more times, admonishing Weakley by stating ‘We can’t have you add anything into it’ and ‘I don’t want you to add to that something, whether it be the chest, the toe or anything else’ that Weakley altered his story and said, ‘They shot her in the head.’”

Two weeks after Turk’s ruling, on March 13, 2012, Close resigned. He had been elected in 2011 to a sixth term in office. Jenkins, the former investigator, was elected sheriff in that same election cycle.

The following day, Hash was released from prison, pending a retrial.

On August 20, 2012, the charges against Hash were dismissed.

In December 2012, Hash filed a federal wrongful conviction lawsuit against Culpeper County and numerous law enforcement officials and prosecutors. The lawsuit was settled in July 2014 for $500,000.

After Turk’s findings in his ruling for Hash about the problems with Weakley’s confession, attorneys with the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law prepared a clemency petition on behalf of Weakley and presented it to then-Gov. Bob McDonnell.

McDonnell didn’t act on the request. A new petition was drafted in 2018 and presented to Gov. Ralph Northam, who pardoned Weakly on January 4, 2022, just before leaving office.

Weakley, who now lives in Pennsylvania, heard about the pardon from Deirdre Enright, a UVA law professor and former director of the clinic. “I just had, like, a moment of silence, and I cried, and I was happy,” Weakley said. “I just prayed to my mom and dad and let them know that it was over with now.”

The Virginia General Assembly enacted legislation on April 11, 2022, paying Weakley $343,232 in compensation for his wrongful conviction.

– Maurice Possley and Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 8/29/2012
Last Updated: 4/22/2022
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1996
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:15
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No