There’s a new top prosecutor in town and she’s a woman.
With 52 percent of the vote, Culpeper County residents selected Megan Revis Frederick as the first-ever female Culpeper County Commonwealth’s Attorney.
In a somewhat unexpected turn of events, Frederick, 40, ousted incumbent top prosecutor GOP nominee Paul Walther in Tuesday’s special election. She got 10,075 votes to Walther’s 9,204.
Frederick is a former child protective services investigator for Virginia Beach Department of Human Services who spent a year in the Virginia Attorney General’s Office before returning to her native Culpeper to seek the commonwealth’s attorney seat.
Frederick ran on a platform of restoring confidence in the local prosecutor’s office on the heels of U.S. District Judge James Turk’s scathing reversal of the 2001 capital murder conviction of Michael Wayne Hash in the 1996 shooting death of Thelma Scroggins in her Lignum home. In his February ruling granting Hash full habeas relief, Turk cited “outrageous conduct” by the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office and “extreme malfunction” in how the case was tried by the office of Culpeper County Commonwealth’s Attorney Gary Close.
Then 19-year-old Hash spent 12 years behind bars for a crime for which he was by most accounts innocent. Now 31, Hash was freed earlier this year and the murder charges against him nolle prossed, meaning there was insufficient evidence for the conviction.
Close resigned from the top prosecutor’s job within weeks of Turk’s ruling and Walther, who served as second seat in the Hash prosecution, has attempted to distance himself from the case, saying he knew nothing about the legal wrongdoing in the handling of the case whose lead investigator was Scott Jenkins, current Culpeper County Sheriff.
Walther, who spent more than two decades in the commonwealth’s attorney office, assumed the top seat when Close left, and was serving on an interim basis, earning broad support from the local legal community, sheriff, mayor and other politicians in his bid for office.
Surrounded by supporters Tuesday night in the Culpeper Cattle Company restaurant, Frederick gave two thumbs up in honor of her late mother, CCSO Deputy Margie Scott, a school resource officer.
“This was my mother’s message to all the kids who were bullied and parents were drug addicts – she’d pass them in the hall and if they got two thumbs up she knew they were OK at home,” she said. “I’ve seen that as I’ve campaigned kids are like we’re giving you two thumbs up, we’re OK.”
Asked what made the difference in toppling the incumbent, Frederick had an easy answer.
“The truth made the difference,” she said. “This is a victory for Michael Hash. This is a victory for the other two cases the Innocence Project has four men who were wrongfully convicted. They weren’t able to get that information out prior to the election, but people knew, and they listened to Michael and they believe in his innocence. That’s what this is for me – this is for Michael and every other man languishing in prison they need to know I am going to look into everything as soon as I am put into office.”
Frederick said she “is ready to go” when she is sworn in over the next few days, acknowledging that the Commonwealth’s Attorney staff works hard and she needs time to evaluate their status of employment.
She said she was unsure about current Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Dale Durrer, but that she would like to possibly keep him on as an assistant. Frederick said she had interviewed several experienced attorneys for the deputy job, but had not made any decisions yet.
Frederick said she was proud to be the county’s first-ever female commonwealth’s attorney.
“The main quote I want to get out there is I absolutely believe that this is the Lord’s doing,” she said. “I am a soldier for Jesus Christ and for justice and that’s exactly what I am going to do. It may sound corny to everyone else, but it is my heart and soul and it’s why I did everything I’ve done.”
A stone-faced Walther declined comment Tuesday night, surrounded by his supporters upstairs in the Culpeper County Volunteer Fire Department Co. 1, including Sheriff Scott Jenkins, attorney Sam Walker, assistant CA Tom Smith, Durrer and school board member and local attorney Bob Beard, among others.
Earlier in the day at the polls, Durrer said why he felt Walther was the best person for the job.
“There are so many things about this job that only experience teaches you and the volume of cases that we have pending requires someone of Paul’s stature and leadership,” he said.
Conversely, Frederick supporter Greg Pullen, a retired contractor, said she was the top choice for top prosecutor.
“I think she has character and integrity,” Pullen said. “We need to get Mr. Walther out of office,” he added, “mainly because of the Hash case.”