Michael Wayne Hash set free

CULPEPER, Va. (AP) - A Virginia man who served nearly 12 years of a life sentence was set free Monday after a federal judge tossed out his murder conviction due to police and prosecutorial misconduct.

Culpeper County Circuit Judge Jay T. Swett set a $10,000 unsecured bond for Michael Wayne Hash, who will remain free while a special prosecutor examines his case and decides whether to retry him for the 1996 shooting and beating death of 74-year-old Thelma Scroggins in her Culpeper home.

The prosecutor must make that call within six months. Hash was 15 at the time of Scroggins' murder and has maintained his innocence.

Last month, U.S. District Judge James C. Turk overturned his 2001 capital murder conviction, calling it a "miscarriage of justice."

Culpeper County Commonwealth's Attorney Gary Close, who was elected to his sixth term in November, resigned Tuesday amid furor over the ruling.

"It feels good," Hash told reporters of his release, as he was unshackled and signed his bond after the hearing. He was to return to the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, where he will be officially released.

Hash said he wanted his first meal to be "something home-cooked. Nothing processed."

In his late February ruling tossing out Hash's conviction, Turk criticized police and prosecutors for using a jailhouse snitch who lied on the stand, for not revealing exculpatory evidence and deals made with witnesses and for using a witness who later claimed he lied on the stand after being fed details of the murder by police.

"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.

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 the jailhouse snitch, to convict him.

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

The lead investigator on the case was Scott Jenkins, who now serves as Culpeper County's sheriff.

Jenkins has said he is cooperating with investigators. Swett set an April 16 hearing in the case, but the special prosecutor, Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh, said he didn't think he would reach a decision by then.

The judge ordered Hash to live with his parents in Crozet and to stay in touch with authorities.