RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia appeals court on Tuesday voided the convictions of a man who served more than two decades in prison after being convicted of sexually assaulting his two young sons in the 1990s, finding that medical testimony presented at the time is now considered unreliable.
Michael Haas was sentenced to life in prison after he was convicted in 1994 of repeatedly sodomizing his sons, ages 9 and 11. His numerous appeals since then were rejected by various courts.
In his latest appeal, Haas argued that his claim of actual innocence was supported by additional scientific evidence discrediting the medical evidence presented at his trial, new affidavits from his sons recanting their previous claims that they were sexually abused by their father, and evidence that supports the reliability of the recantations.
The Court of Appeals granted Haas’ petition for a writ of actual innocence, voiding his convictions.
“We reach this conclusion not by rejecting out of hand the trial evidence, but rather, after weighing it against all of the evidence,” the court wrote in its ruling.
The court cited the recantations and evidence regarding a new medical consensus “completely undermining the corroborative force of the physical examination findings that were crucial” to the original determination of guilt.
Haas, who is now in his 60s, was released on parole in 2017.
Former Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and his successor, Attorney General Jason Miyares, both supported Haas’ writ of actual innocence.
“Today, our justice system prevailed and righted a wrong by giving a falsely convicted man a writ of actual innocence. I’m extremely proud of my office’s role in securing justice for an innocent man,” Miyares said in a news release.
Haas could not immediately be reached for comment. Julia Dahlberg, one of his attorneys, said that when Haas learned of the court’s ruling Tuesday, “he was thrilled that people now could see the truth.”
Jimmy Moody, another attorney who worked on Haas’ case, said the court’s decision means his record will be expunged and he will be removed from the sex offender registry.
Miyares said Virginia’s actual innocence system was designed to exonerate petitioners whose convictions no longer stand due to advances in scientific and medical evidence.
In his first petition for a writ of actual innocence in 2010, Haas’ two sons and his daughter said in affidavits that he was a strict disciplinarian who spanked them or beat them with a belt when they misbehaved. But all three denied that he had ever touched them inappropriately or sexually abused them. Both sons said they were afraid their mother would punish them “if they told the truth that Haas had not sexually abused them,” the court wrote in its ruling.
That petition failed, and Haas filed a new petition in 2020, arguing that additional scientific evidence discredited the medical evidence presented at his trial.