On Monday, Hash walked out of the Culpeper County courthouse with the charges against him dismissed, 12 years after being wrongly convicted of murder. Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh, who had been brought in to reassess a case that has raised widespread concerns about deceit and misconduct, asked the judge to dismiss all charges and lift any legal constraints against him.
Now 31, Hash hugged his mother tightly when she burst into tears. He struggled for words as the decision began to sink in.
“It brings validity to what we’ve said all along,” Hash said, “that this was never right.”
What it does not do is solve the lingering question: Who murdered 74-year-old Thelma B. Scroggins?
The investigation, Morrogh said, isn’t over.
Hash was 15 in 1996 when Scroggins, an elderly church organist who lived in his neighborhood near Culpeper, was shot four times in the head. He was 19 when he and two friends were accused of killing her. Hash was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled that Hash was being wrongly held, citing extreme police and prosecutorial misconduct, such as coaching witnesses, failing to disclose a plea deal with a key witness and moving him to another county’s jail for two nights to expose him to a known snitch. The judge said Hash had made a convincing show of actual innocence.
Hash was released from prison to his parents’ home in Virginia, but the judge gave the commonwealth six months to decide whether to try Hash again.
So Hash has been waiting for this day, for Morrogh to deliver his decision.
Even as he has enjoyed the simplest of everyday freedoms — being able to close a door, eat with a fork, walk in the woods — he has been haunted by a sense of unreality, of disbelief, similar to what he had felt throughout the past 12 years.
All through his arrest and trials and imprisonment, he said, he kept thinking, “This is a nightmare I’m going to wake up from.”
Nor did the past six months feel real. “Maybe this is a good dream,” he used to think. “Maybe I will wake up and I’m still in prison.”
The sense of unreality started, he said, when police woke him up at his grandmother’s trailer one morning in 2000, took him to a small interrogation room and slammed a three-foot-tall stack of binders onto a table. They showed him a videotape of a friend he had grown up with saying he had been there when Hash had killed someone.
When he was arrested, he said, all he could think was, “This can’t be happening.”