Friday, January 18, 2013

Sheriff and deputy sued after gross miscarriage of justice

In a 31-page civil suit filed Dec. 28 in federal court, the innocent local man who spent 12 years in jail for murder named the current Culpeper County Sheriff and chief deputy as among "the architects" of his wrongful conviction.

Plaintiff Michael Wayne Hash, 31, of Crozet in Albemarle County is seeking unspecified monetary damages in the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia Charlottesville Division by his attorneys at Hunton & Williams related to Hash's 2001 conviction for capital murder in Culpeper County Circuit Court.

The civil suit names as defendants former Culpeper County Commonwealth's Attorney Gary Close, prosecutor in the case, Sheriff Scott Jenkins - lead investigator in the case - CCSO Chief Deputy James Mack, investigator in the case, former CCSO Sgt. Bruce Cave, former CCSO jailer Mary Peters Dwyer and Paul Carter, an imprisoned government informant who repeatedly lied on the stand at Hash's trial.

The civil suit requests a jury trial on the matter in the federal court in Charlottesville where it was filed.

Hash was freed from prison in March after U.S. District Court Judge James Turk vacated his conviction in the 1996 murder of neighbor Thelma Scroggins in her Lignum home. In his scathing written reversal, Turk said the Culpeper justice system used "methods that offend a sense of justice" in the investigation and prosecution of Hash representing "an extreme malfunction in the state criminal justice system."

Close, a prominent local Republican who served as commonwealth's attorney from 1991 to 2012, resigned within weeks of Turk's ruling being released. He could not be reached for comment Friday. Jenkins did not respond to several requests for comment.

Hash's attorney, in an email to the Star-Exponent Friday, confirmed that the civil suit had been filed.

"Mike will never be able to recover the nearly 12 years he spent in jail for a crime he did not commit," said lawyer Matthew Bosher. "One of the aims of the lawsuit is to hold the officials in Culpeper accountable for the misconduct that cost him all those years."

Bosher said a trial in the matter had not yet been scheduled.

Hash was 19 when he was arrested in the Scroggins murder for which he was wrongfully convicted by a jury in February 2001 and sentenced to life in prison with no parole. He was 15 when his neighbor was shot four times in the head.

In the civil suit recently filed in Hash's wrongful conviction, it says the named defendants "engaged in a concerted and malicious effort to convict Hash for a brutal crime despite the total absence of credible evidence against him." No physical evidence ever tied Hash to the crime scene and he maintained his innocence from the start. At least five people testified at his trial that he was elsewhere the night Scroggins was killed.

And yet Hash was arrested in 2000 in the crime along with two other local young men even though an initial investigation concluded a single assailant had murdered Scroggins, a 74-year-old retired mail carrier, widow and church organist at Lael Baptist Church. Hash was never a suspect in the initial investigation. The cold case was reopened by former Culpeper Sheriff Lee Hart shortly after his election won on a platform of solving unsolved crimes. Hart assigned Jenkins lead investigator on the case.

Within months, Hash was a suspect, taken into custody at 12:28 a.m. on May 17, 2000 by Jenkins and Mack, according to court records.

Hash's civil suit, which does not name Hart, says the named defendants engaged in multiple "unlawful acts" in wrongfully convicting him of the crime including: feeding witnesses information about the case; coaching witnesses in their false accounts and persuading witnesses to lie by promising them favorable treatment.

"Defendant law enforcement officials also went to great lengths to suppress and withhold the evidence of their own misconduct to ensure Hash's false arrest, unfair trial, wrongful conviction and continued imprisonment after his conviction," the suit says. "As a result of defendants' intentional, bad faith, willful, wanton, reckless and/or deliberately indifferent acts and omissions, Michael Hash was deprived of his federal constitutional rights, was robbed of nearly 12 years of his life and freedom and sustained severe physical, emotional and economic damages."

According to the civil suit, Jenkins had never led a homicide investigation and Mack had never investigated any major crime when Hart assigned them to the Scroggins murder. The civil suit quoted sworn testimony in 2011 from Jenkins on the matter: "James Mack I don't think ever investigated anything more than a petty larceny in his entire career, and he spent four years prior as jail officer under Sheriff Mitchell ... Mack is a black male. He was put in (the Investigations) division for that reason. They wanted a black officer in the division, and that's why he was put there ... He had absolutely, to my knowledge, no specialized training for investigations whatsoever. He was so to speak learning on-the-job training was what it was, assigned with me to this cold case ... I know it sounds horrible and it is embarrassing to think that an office did that, but that's the political nature of the sheriff's office, that people with no knowledge and experience are allowed to be put in positions that can bring horrible results."

Calvin Bruce Cave was assigned to supervise Jenkins and Mack even though he had never investigated a murder, according to Hash's civil suit.

Among the witnesses pursued against Hash during Jenkins' investigation was Hash's cousin Alesia Shelton, serving time in jail for a 1999 shooting. "Deputies Mack and Jenkins offered to 'help' Shelton or to 'shorten her sentence' in exchange for information," the civil suit says, in spite of the fact for most of the initial interview she insisted repeatedly she knew nothing about the Scroggins homicide.

Following a cigarette break outside of the jail, Shelton was recorded as saying, "that's when it hit me," vaguely describing discussions she supposedly had about the crime with Hash and the two other teen aged boys charged in Scroggins murder, Jason Kloby and Eric Weakley. Four days later, Shelton failed a lie detector test revealing she was deceptive on every question implicating Hash - information never disclosed at Hash's trial.

Another key witness against Hash was Weakley, who last year recanted any and all testimony implicating Hash or himself in Scroggins' murder. In a recent sworn statement included as part of the civil suit, Weakley said, "Jenkins and Mack showed me everything you can imagine about the crime. They showed me awful crime scene photos ... Jenkins and Mack talked to me about a lot of other details of the murder such as the location where Ms. Scroggins' body had been found, the position it was in, and how she died."

Weakley, who spent nearly seven years in jail after accepting a plea deal in the Scroggins murder, said Jenkins and Mack "became extremely frustrated" with him in subsequent interviews. "When I would answer questions in a way they didn't like, the investigators would suggest that I was lying or confused," Weakley recently said.

Eventually, he agreed to go along with the story.

Weakley said, "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."

Weakley's attorney subsequently started negotiation with Close to make a deal whereby Weakley testified against Hash and Kloby. Kloby was found not-guilty at trial.

According to the civil suit filed by Hash and his attorneys, Virginia State Police Agent Wayne Carwile disagreed with the decision to arrest Hash.

"I don't believe anything that Eric Weakley said, and the Shelton girl failed the polygraph on issues that were important to a very important investigation, so as far as I'm concerned, she wasn't reliable either," Carwile said in a sworn statement that's part of the civil suit.

Carwile said he warned prosecutor Close that Weakley was entirely unreliable and "just saying things."

Further, according to the civil suit, Jenkins himself admitted under oath he believed Hash's arrest was not "proper" because the CCSO "had a very weak case." And yet "the sham investigation" continued, the civil suit said.

Among other improprieties detailed in the civil suit regarding Jenkins' investigation of Hash were intimidation tactics used on alibi witnesses and the orchestrated transfer of Hash to the jail in Charlottesville so as to expose him to known prison snitch Paul Carter.

"Culpeper officials engaged in extraordinary machinations in order to put Hash in a cell block with Paul Carter," the civil suit says, adding Hash was the only inmate in the last 15 years transferred from the Culpeper jail to the Charlottesville jail.

The cell block in which Hash was placed generally housed black males, according to the civil suit, whereas Hash is white. According to a jail officer quoted in the suit, "it was highly unusual to place a white teenager such as Hash in a permanent housing cell block with all black males."

In an attempt to legitimize the transfer, civil suit defendant Mary Dwyer, CCSO jailer at the time, created a false report on May 24, 2000 stating that Hash was transfered "for administrative reasons" such as being closer to his court-appointed attorney, according to the civil suit.

"Dwyer would later admit in a deposition that moving Hash to be closer to his attorneys was not the 'real reason' for the transfer and that explanation was provided because it 'sounded good' and that her May 24, 2000 report may have been created solely 'because it looks pretty on paper,'" according to the civil suit.

For years, the suit continued, Close denied the true purpose of the transfer until earlier in 2012 when "he finally admitted the real reason for the transfer: to put Hash in 'a jail where there was a snitch.'"

Prior to Carter's meeting with Hash in the Charlottesville jail, the informant was visited by two Culpeper law enforcement officials who fed Carter information about the Scroggins murder, according to the civil suit. Hash denied any involvement in the murder in speaking with Carter.

And yet on June 26, 2000, Jenkins and Mack met with Carter for about 35 minutes and subsequently Jenkins created a false report for the investigation file stating Hash had confessed the crime to the informant, according to the civil suit. Carter struck a deal with Jenkins, Mack and Close that in exchange for his false testimony at Hash's trial the Culpeper authorities would assist in reducing his federal sentence.

The agreement was concealed at Hash's trial. Close, in addition, went on to testify falsely at trial regarding the arrangement with Carter saying none existed. Mack and Jenkins, in earlier appeals by Hash of his murder conviction, also lied about the jail transfer and the promises to help Carter get his sentence reduced, according to the civil suit.

"Also, Culpeper officials have never turned over the letters, that according to Jenkins, Paul Carter wrote to them," the civil suit says. "Gary Close also admits that a box of documents related to Hash's case has 'gone missing.'"

Judge Turk, in his recent analysis of the case against Hash, summarized Close's conduct as follows: "The proseuctor's office engaged in a series of lies and failures to disclose exculpatory evdience to Hash's trial counsel." Turk further characterized Jenkins' and Mack's conduct in the case as rising "to the level of outrageous misconduct because the acts were intentional and not merely negligent."

Original report here

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