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Welcome to wrongful conviction, false confessions. I'm Laura Nightrider. And I'm Steve Drazen. Today, we'll bring you to Culpeper County, Virginia, to tell you the story of teenage buddies Eric Weekley and Michael Hash. Local police solved a murder case by coercing Eric into falsely confessing and into falsely implicating his friend Michael as an accomplice. For years, lawyers couldn't get justice for either of them until Michael's mom found evidence that blew this case wide open. Michael Horsh and Eric Weekley were childhood friends, long time friends, and to see the way the system split them apart in this case, it's terrible.


It's not uncommon for one codefendant to turn on another codefendant, especially in a state where the death penalty is on the table.


And it's really understandable how that could have destroyed Eric's relationship with Mike and Mike, the whole family. But that's not what happened.


One of the most incredible things about wrongful convictions work is that you encounter these pockets of grace in the most unexpected places. Some of the most unbelievable humans you'll ever meet are people like Pam Hash, whose son Mike was falsely implicated by his one time childhood friend.


You know, that's a situation that could have led to a lot of rage and a lot of anger and a lot of blame.


Yeah, I mean, vengeance, anger, hatred, they can keep somebody stuck. But Pam realized very early on that that was wasted energy and that she needed to spend all our time learning about the case, finding the right lawyers, doing her own digging and pushing the authorities to come to the right solution.


She turned all of that into forgiveness. That's pretty incredible. Today's story starts in Culpeper County, Virginia, about 90 minutes west of the Washington, D.C. Beltway, Culpeper is a popular weekend getaway spot for the D.C. crowd. It's got bed and breakfasts, art boutiques and plenty of fancy cafes. Architectural Digest even named Culpeper, the prettiest area in Virginia. But for all its beauty, Culpeper is also home to an unrelated injustice, one that stains the county to this day.


That injustice began back in 1996 in Lignum, an unincorporated part of Culpeper that hadn't quite caught up to the rest of the county's growing prosperity, Lignum was where a 74 year old Thelma Scroggins had lived her whole life in the same two story frame house where she'd been born.


Thelma was a petite, curly haired lady who had retired from her work as a mail carrier.


She'd been widowed years earlier, and since then she lived alone.


But Thelma's life was still full and active. She had plenty of friends and liked to spend time playing the organ at the Baptist Church across the street.


It was the evening of Saturday, July 13th, and Thelma was on the phone with one of her girlfriends at about nine p.m.. Thelma told her friend that she had to go. Someone was knocking at the door. The friend called back 15 minutes later, but got no answer. She tried again the next morning. Still no answer. When Thelma didn't show up at church that Sunday morning, her friends really started worrying. One of them, Richard Hicks, went over to Thelma's house.


As he pulled up outside, he could hear Thelma's TV blasting at top volume. Richard let himself inside the front door, wasn't locked and found pink hair curlers scattered across the living room floor. He went in further and saw Thelma slumped over in front of her bedroom door. She'd been shot in the head four times. It seemed the TV had been turned up to mask the sound of the gunshots. Police arrived and quickly canvassed the scene. They found that Thelma's jewelry was still sitting on her dresser, but her purse was missing, along with her green Ford pickup truck.


A month later, a deer hunter found the truck abandoned in a wooded area about a mile and a half away from Thelma's home. Her purse was there, too, with its contents scattered on the ground nearby. But despite this discovery, police couldn't develop any viable suspects or leads. A few months later, the case went cold. Three years later, in November 1999, a new D.A. was elected in Culpeper on a promise to solve cold cases. Shortly after he took office, new detectives were assigned to investigate Thelma Scroggins murder.


They started off by visiting a local prison to interview a young woman named Alicia Shelton. Alicia had just been convicted of shooting a man in the head six times. The cops figured her crime was similar enough to what happened to Thelma to make Alicia worth questioning on audiotape, Alicia told the investigators that she didn't know anything about Thelma's murder.


But then one detective offered what he called a little foundation. He suggested that Alicia might get a reduced sentence if she provided information about her teenage cousin Michael Hash. Then silence.


The tape was shut off, supposedly for a cigarette break when the recorder got turned back on. Alicia was suddenly full of ideas. She said she'd overheard her cousin Michael discussing his involvement in Thelma's murder. She said Michael did it along with his buddies Eric Weekley and Jason Chalaby.


Alicia Shelton was looking at a lot of time and desperate for a way to get out from underneath the weight of a heavy sentence. I don't know what happened when the camera was off, but there had to be some powerful inducement to get her to change her story from I don't know what you're talking about, to fingering her own cousin and his friends for this crime.


In 1996, when Thelma was killed, Michael was 15, Eric was 16 and Jason was 18. They'd grown up together, riding go carts as kids and crushing on girls as teenagers. Michael and his parents, Jeff and Pam Hash, lived within a mile of Thelma's house. In fact, Thelma had been the hash family's mail carrier, delivering birthday cards and letters to the home with her typical friendly wave.


Michael was a good kid. There was no reason whatsoever to suspect him and his friends of killing Thelma Scroggins.


It's true that Michael used to frequent a campsite near the wooded area where Thelma's truck had been found, but that was a pretty thin connection.


Somehow, though, Michael Hirsh, Jason Chalaby and Eric Weekley found themselves at the center of a cold case murder investigation.


In April 2000, police decide to interrogate, but they don't start with Michael Hirsh or Jason Chalaby, they start with Eric Weekly.


By this time, Eric was 19 years old with a reputation as a follower, someone who could be easily intimidated.


Eric Weekley was a weak link. He had a little daughter that he cared very much about. He had a prior record which gave interrogators leverage. They started with him because they felt that he was the most likely to break and it worked.


Eric said his factory job. When two detectives approach him and start asking about Thelma's murder, Eric is shocked.


He had nothing to do with it. He tells the detectives they're crazy and says he has to get back to work. The cops leave, but not for long. They follow Eric everywhere.


The gas station, the grocery store, they show up at Eric's job over and over.


These detectives would not leave him alone. They hounded him. They stalked him. They kept coming to his workplace trying to question him. It got to the point where his employer just was fed up and he fired Eric. And Eric got worried that he would never be able to get another job because everywhere he would go, these cops would just show up at his work again. So he gave up and he agreed finally to go to the police station and answer their questions.


Over the next several weeks, Eric Cantor is not one, not two, but a whole chain of interrogations as the police keep insisting he come back again and again, some of these interrogations last longer than 12 hours. Only a few are recorded.


But what did get caught on tape is enough to make anyone skeptical. During the first few interrogations, Eric protests his innocence over and over.


He doesn't have the mind or the heart to kill somebody, he tells police.


And I said, well, you know, we'll fill my belly up in here. So, you know, I do not want the police won't listen to Eric.


They insist he's guilty and they chip away at him slowly and steadily over the course of weeks.


So that when you saw the was one of the you sit here and try to lie to me about that.


The day that the police tell Eric that if he cooperates, he can go home. If he just repeats the details, they feed him, the police can work with him, even help him make yourself more comfortable with that guilt.


But if Eric holds back, if he refuses to say he was involved, they say that'll hurt him. If he doesn't confess, he might not get to see his daughter anymore. These interrogations continue off and on for weeks. But Eric still won't confess. So the cops pull out a tried and true tactic.


Finally, they say, OK, Eric, if you have nothing to do with this, would you at least come down and take a polygraph exam? And Eric, did he took that exam to get these police officers off his back and then they told him he failed the exam, which got him talking.


The polygraph finally does it.


Eric Weekley realizes he'll never be able to get the police to believe him. And he breaks. He agrees to tell the cops a story. Eric says that he, Michael and Jason chopped Thelma's body up with an ax. Their motive, he said, was robbery. They stole diamond rings, vases and necklaces from her home, a king's ransom in treasure. This was a confession, all right. But none of it came close to what actually happened. Thelma wasn't attacked with an axe and what little jewelry she owned was found sitting on her dresser.


So police accuse Eric of lying again. Eric's response. I'm just telling you what you want to hear so I can go the hell home. The police don't let him go the hell home. They've got to clean up Eric's story and it takes hours. They cut him short when he begins to describe the jewelry because none of it had actually been taken. They show him photos of the crime scene so that he can see Thelma's body wasn't mutilated with an axe.


In fact, they end up straight out telling Eric that Thelma had been shot. And all these details provided by the police are what end up in Eric's confession.


Eric's story becomes final on May 16th, 2000. He's arrested immediately that same night, police come for Jason, Kobe and Michael hash.


The night that he was arrested, it was it was a total shock.


That's Pam Harsh. She's Michael HaShas Mom. It was about one o'clock in the morning. Everybody had gone to bed and all of a sudden there's barking dogs, people banging on the door, yelling, my husband got up, went to the door, and they pretty much just barged into the home. They were wanting Michael. She had, of course, his boxers on nothing else. And I begged them to let him have at least a shirt and shoes.


They let him take it with him. And in a matter of minutes, he was loaded into the car and all these cars left and we got dressed and followed them. It was all so quick it felt like it was in a movie. It was just a nightmare. Pam's nightmare had just begun.


She would soon find out her son Michael, along with his buddies, Eric and Jason, had been charged with capital murder. Culpeper County Commonwealth Attorney Gary Clothes prosecuted each of the three boys, starting with Jason Chalaby, but the prosecution had a problem.


There was no evidence against Jason except for Eric's statements. And prosecutors could only use Eric's statement against Jason if Eric agreed to testify in person against him. It's not enough to simply play Eric's confession during the trial of Michael and Jason because lawyers can't cross-examine a confession. They need to be able to cross-examine Eric about what he says on that tape. It's part of a constitutional right of criminal defendants to confront witnesses, the right of cross-examination.


The prosecution needed Eric Weekly to get up on the witness stand and testify to get them there. They offered him a deal. If Eric agreed to testify against both Jason and Michael, the state would reduce Eric's charges to second degree murder. That charge carried at most 20 years behind bars, sometimes much less if Eric didn't take the deal. On the other hand, he was facing life in prison. If convicted, Eric was in despair. He felt cornered by the confession that detectives had wrung out of him.


Like so many people before him, Eric felt that he had no real choice. He took the deal and agreed to testify against his friends.


Once you confessed, the pressure to plead guilty on these suspects is even greater. Of all the exonerations in the DNA database, 12 percent involve people who pled guilty to crimes they didn't commit. And each one of those pleas involved someone who was represented by counsel and who weighed the options and decided it was in their best interests to give up all of their rights, to give up their right to testify, their right to appeal, their right to prove their innocence in order to plead guilty.


Eric was now a lock for the prosecution in November 2000. It was time to try Jason Close-by as he'd agreed to do.


Eric took the stand and testified that Jason had participated in the murder. But Jason's defense lawyers had an ace in the hole, an alibi. They brought in several witnesses who testified that Jason had been visiting his dad in Pennsylvania at the time of Thelma's murder. It took the jury less than two hours to find Jason Chalaby not guilty.


If Jason wasn't present during this cry, then that undermines Eric's entire confession because he has Jason right there being a major actor, along with Michael in the murder of Thelma Scroggins. Once these detectives learned that Jason had an alibi, they should have walked away from this case.


But detectives didn't walk away. Instead, they plowed ahead with the trial of Michael Hash after Kobe was acquitted.


I kept telling Mike, you're next. They know the truth from Chloe's case. You're next. You'll be next. You're coming home.


Now, Michael didn't have a strong alibi like Jason did when Thelma died. Michael had been right there in Culpeper County hanging out with some buddies. But even though Michael's defense was weaker, the prosecutors decided to leave nothing to chance.


They knew that Eric Weekly's testimony alone wasn't going to be enough to get a conviction against Michael. So what did they do? They manufactured more evidence. They went to a seasoned serial snitch, a jailhouse informant who had worked with them in the past and testified in other cases.


Paul Carter. About a week after Michael had been arrested, he met Paul Carter in jail. At the time, it seemed like a random encounter later at Michael's trial. Carter testified that when they met, Michael had admitted to killing Thelema.


During cross-examination, Eric's defense attorney suggested Carter was getting some benefit in exchange for fabricating testimony against Michael.


But Carter denied it. He said he wasn't receiving anything for his cooperation.


He was pretty career criminal and he knew what he was doing, even though he's up there telling the jury that he is only there because this was somebody's mother or grandmother. You know, he's looking for something. And I thought the jury would see right through that.


The prosecutor backed up his witnesses claim, telling the jury that, of course, the state hadn't made any deal with Carter. After testimony concluded, the jury deliberated for six and a half hours as the clock neared midnight on February 9th, 2001, they returned a verdict.




It's a sound that I think. I'll here for the rest of my life when they came back and said that they found him guilty. It's almost like you hear guilty, guilty, guilty, just echoing and quite frankly, I don't remember a whole lot after that. I know that I broke down and they took my immediately out of the courtroom. I remember my husband putting me in the back seat of the car, and I don't really remember a whole lot after that until the next morning at sentencing, Michael told the judge, you've convicted an innocent person, but it was too late.


Michael Hash was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.


A lot of defendants in Michael's situation might have pled guilty and accepted a much shorter sentence, but Michael didn't confess.


That's important. It's never wrong to assert your innocence.


For his part, Eric Weekly had finally satisfied the state. He'd lived up to his end of the bargain and testified against his friends. In exchange, the state reduced Eric's charges to second degree murder, to which Eric formally pled guilty. On June 13th, 2001, he would go on to serve six years and eight months in prison.


Eric implicating Michael and Jason and even himself. It angered me, but I would always go back to I know he's not doing this. Just knowing Eric. Somebody is making him say these things. They're threatening him. He had a child by then, a young child. And I knew that that was probably his main focus was I've got to do whatever to get back to my child. And I can't be mad at that because I'm a mom.


Eric weakly served his time and was freed in 2006, but Michael remained behind bars, serving a life sentence even as he pursued his appeals each year at Christmas time and have that faith.


He's going to be home this year and I'd buy him Christmas presents just like I did every year before I wrapped them. I'd have them under the tree and always after Christmas, take them up and pack them away in a box and add to it each Christmas that he didn't come home. When Michael's last appeal ended fruitlessly, Pam Hayes drove to the office of her son's lawyers and took his paperwork.


I didn't know anything about the legal system or law. I worked as a floral designer, but she was a mother and she was going to help her son.


I went to the office and picked up what must have been a dozen legal boxes, tens of thousands of papers just thrown in a box in no particular order. And that's pretty much when I started searching the Internet on false confessions, asking questions, looking at people that I could call, that I could beg for help. Steve Grossman was one of the first people that I contacted. I knew that Eric had given a false confession and I thought maybe Steve could help me.


I sent letters to him and made phone calls and bless his heart, I think he took my call just so that maybe I would shut up.


Panache would call me, would send me information. She sent me a VHS of Eric's interrogation. I reviewed those transcripts and talked about the case with her. Pam was a very forceful advocate for her son. She believed that he was absolutely innocent and was willing to go to the ends of the earth to prove it.


Steve put Pam in touch with several people in Virginia. Everyone from lawyers to examiner is like Beverly Monroe, who we talked about in Emerson Stevens story. In fact, it was Beverly who told Pam to go to the federal courthouse and pull the file on Paul Carter, that jailhouse snitch. Prosecutors had denied making a deal with.


I went to the federal court and I asked the clerk of the court to look through his files. Her exact remark to me was, and this is the clerk of the federal court, Paul Carter. She said, oh, he got the deal of the century.


Turns out Paul Carter had been serving a 15 year sentence on federal drug charges after he testified against Michael, though Carter was immediately released. Time served. He sure did get the deal of the century a get out of jail free card.


It also turned out that Michael had been moved to a different jail for two nights for no other reason than to put them together with Paul Carter. None of this had been disclosed to Michael's defense or to Eric Weekly's defense.


Pam may have started out as a floral designer, but her legal work was pretty kickass. She had single handedly demolished Carter's value as a witness against her son. She had proven that the prosecutor lied when he told the jury there was no deal with Carter. The only evidence against Michael that remained was Eric Weekley. A few years after Eric's release from prison, two lawyers from the University of Virginia Innocence Project knocked on his door. Eric was rebuilding his life as best he could, but his friend Michael Hash was still behind bars.


Did Eric want to tell them anything about his testimony against Michael? Eric nearly broke down. His false testimony against Michael had sat for years on his shoulders like a lead weight. He had been coerced into confessing by police and into pleading guilty by prosecutors. But fairly or unfairly, he blamed himself. Could he really take it all back, try at last to do right by his friend? Eric was at risk of being charged with perjury if he came forward and said that everything he had testified to was a lie.


The sad part is that even when witnesses recant their statement, prosecutors and judges most of the time don't believe them. They think that the initial statement is the true statement and that the recantation is a lie. So Eric, risk doing it all for nothing, because if the courts didn't believe him, then Michael stays in prison.


Eric decided the risk was worth it. On March 21st, 2011, he signed an affidavit recanting everything. I had nothing to do with Thelma Scroggins murder, and neither did Michael Hash, who wrote We are innocent of this crime. Instead, he explained that police had fed him information about Velma's murder and coerced him into repeating it.


This was courageous and I think that Pam and Michael recognized as such.


I was so happy when Eric came forward because I knew how much he stood to lose. Yet he was still doing this and it just was maybe here some more hope. Maybe this will be something that'll turn the case around.


Now, Eric can benefit directly from his affidavit because as we mentioned before, when you plead guilty, you give up your right to prove your own innocence.


But Michael Hash could benefit. He hadn't pled guilty. He'd been convicted at trial. That meant that legally he was still able to challenge his conviction in court.


Michael's lawyers at the mid-Atlantic Innocence Project snapped into action with Pam Hess right alongside them. They filed a petition to overturn Michael's conviction with Eric's affidavit and the secret deal with Paul Carter as the centerpieces. Pam Hess knew from day one that her son was innocent. Her investigative work, together with Eric's recantation, had proved it. But every time she'd spoken out in the past, authorities had told her to shut up, sit down, stop being so dramatic.


I knew exactly what Culpeper County was capable of. Its blatant if this was a setup that he was put in with a snitch. And I was told, Mrs. Hash, you watch too much TV. This is real life. That doesn't happen.


Would this time be different? Would someone finally listen? On February 28th, 2012, Pam got her answer. A federal judge threw out Michael's conviction. The judge ruled that Eric's recantation was more believable than his confession. As for Pam's discoveries about Paul Carter, the judge said prosecutors had outand out lied when they denied cutting Carter a deal. Real life had met real justice.


It was like, yes, yes, somebody finally gets it. After so many doors being shut, this was amazing. For once, we won something. Two weeks later, Michael was released from prison. He'd been behind bars for nearly 12 years.


It was a absolute perfect day. I hugged him and all I could think telling was no more chain, Mike, no more chains. After he came home, I gave him this huge box with all of his Christmas presents in it, and some of them were 12 years old. So the wrapping paper was faded. And like a dummy, I had bought chocolate. Well, that had melted and very hardened and melted and turned white. He started opening video games that you couldn't even get the computer to play them on anymore.


But he loved it just the same. We cried a lot. Sad tears and a lot of happy tears. A few months later, all charges against Michael Hirsh were formally dismissed that day, Pam wrote an email to Steve, just three words long.


We won, Steve. I almost fell out of my chair, I was ecstatic. As for Eric Weekley, the judge's decision took a 12 year burden off his shoulders. I'm glad that man's home, Eric told the local news. I feel like I amended my wrong. Since the charges were dismissed, Michael Hash has been making the most of his freedom. In 2015, he got married, his parents were there, his lawyers were there. And you know who else was there?


Eric Weekley celebrating with all his heart. All had been forgiven.


It was as if nothing happened. This was Mike's decision. But why not? We were friends then. We're still friends now. Why shouldn't I invite him to my wedding?


And the prosecutor who secured Michael and Eric's convictions, he resigned one day before Michael walked free. That prosecutor was later reprimanded by the Virginia bar for lying to the jury about Paul Carter's get out of jail free card.


As for Eric himself, he remains convicted of second degree murder. Remember, he doesn't have access to post conviction relief because he pled guilty. Eric Weekley brought justice to Michael Hash by making right an old wrong. Now it's time to bring justice to Eric, too.


In twenty eighteen, Eric's attorneys filed a pardon petition with the governor of Virginia while he waits for an answer. Eric has to face everybody from employers to landlords with a murder conviction on his record. A formal pardon from the governor would change that. It would exonerate Eric Weekley. And that's what Eric deserves. But don't take our word for it. Here's what Michael Hash thinks. Absolutely.


I think the governor supported Eric. I think he was made to do what he did. And he's still a part of this ordeal, just as I am. So he deserves just as much as anybody else does in this case to have themselves vindicated.


Hello. Hey, Eric, this is Laura and Steve, how are you doing? All right, great. How are you? Are you spending your time these days where the parents spend time with my wife and my kids and my grandbaby and all of grandbaby.


That's exciting. Oh, wonderful. Yeah. How old she is a year and a half now. Wow, that's great.


I got a call from Pam Hatch about your case, actually, when she was fighting to get Michael Freed. The day that Michael got released from prison was the greatest day of my life. And after it was all over with, me and Michael had a long conversation and we made amends amongst each other. That's our friends do this to see my friend come home and just do his thing and live his life free from all of it now. And it's a great feeling.


Eric, what would it mean to you to receive a pardon from the governor of Virginia for going on 14 years back? Back hasn't got a beautiful wife, got to be of family and still fighting it. And I still keep my head held high, but would be a life altering thing if I can actually go out and not worry about having to put down. If I'm a convicted felon, that will mean the world for me just to solidify that, you know, I can get somewhere else and all of it to I don't know how I'm going to react until I have the papers in my hand.


I mean, I might just break down and cry like a little girl. Have enough. The fact of the matter is that if you have a murder conviction on your record, that's an incredible yoke to have to carry with you for the rest of your life. That's right.


I mean, Jason Colby was found to be not guilty. Michael Hash now has been exonerated. Eric Weekley is innocent of the other guys.


And it's time for the governor to declare that Eric is actually innocent. If you want to support Eric Weekly's pardon petition, you can write to the governor of Virginia to find the governor's contact information, check out this episode's description on your podcast app or visit my Instagram page at Laurenzi writer.


And that's the story of Michael Hirsh and Eric Weekly. Join us next week when we tell you about Michigan Police Officer Ray McCan. Ray found himself accused of a brutal murder that he'd helped investigate. His story is proof that interrogator's lies can trap anybody in a wrongful conviction, even a cop. Wrongful conviction, False Confessions is a production of Lava for Good Podcast's in association with Signal Company No. One special thanks to our executive producers Jason Pflum and Kevin Autists.


Our production team is headed by senior producer and pope, along with producers Josh Hammer and Jess Shane. Our show is mixed by Jeanie Montalvo. John Colbert is our intrepid intern. Our music was composed by Jay Ralph. You can follow me on Instagram or Twitter at Laurer Nightrider and you can follow me on Twitter at S Drizzt.


For more information on the show, visit wrongful conviction podcast dotcom. Be sure to follow the show on Instagram at wrongful conviction on Facebook, at Wrongful Conviction Podcast and on Twitter at Wrong Conviction. For NPR ex.