Michael Hash was 19 when a Culpeper County, Va., jury found him guilty of murder in 2001. The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project was following the case as Hash's family unsuccessfully pursued appeals, and when the project saw a need for counsel with federal habeas experience, it turned to Hunton & Williams.
Partner Matthew Bosher and a team of attorneys and staff logged 2,600 hours on Hash's petition. They re-investigated the crime and subsequent prosecution, Bosher said, uncovering what U.S. District Senior Judge James Turk would eventually call a "miscarriage of justice." The charges were dropped in August.
Absent physical evidence tying Hash to the crime, the case came down to witnesses, including one of Hash's co-defendants, who insisted that Hash was among a group that attacked and shot to death 74-year-old Thelma Scroggins in her home. Bosher spotted inconsistencies in the testimony, ranging from the type of gun used to descriptions of the crime scene. The co-defendant had meanwhile recanted, saying in an affidavit that investigators fed him information.
Additional evidence of misconduct involved a jailhouse informant's testimony that Hash had confessed, Bosher said. At trial, the witness had said he didn't expect favors from prosecutors in exchange for his testimony. But in letters to a judge found in his federal case file, he indicated that he had spoken with a prosecutor and detectives about reducing his sentence.
Later, defense lawyers found proof that Hash had been transferred among jails for the sole purpose of putting him with the witness. "The whole law enforcement house of cards collapsed," Bosher said.
Turk granted the habeas petition in February and Hash was released on bail. In August, a special prosecutor declined to retry him. The case remains under investigation, but Bosher sees no reason to believe Hash remains a suspect. "There's nothing we can do or anyone can do to undo that damage. But to have him at home with his parents is extremely gratifying." The team filed a civil suit against the county on December 28.
Shawn Armbrust, executive director of the Innocence Project chapter, said Hunton & Williams went "above and beyond" what her group expects from private co-counsel. "They just staffed this case like crazy," she said. "They took it, they ran with it, they owned it."
Bosher and his team weren't alone at Hunton in doing pro bono work this year. The firm reported that 100 percent of its U.S. lawyers participated in pro bono work.