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General Assembly votes to compensate man wrongly imprisoned for 23 years

Michael Haas in checkered shirt and jeans, standing next to a motorcycle
Crixell Matthews
VPM News

Michael Haas will receive about $1.5 million from the state if the governor agrees.

Michael Haas’s backyard in Chesterfield is filled with tinkering projects and carefully tended plants.

He lights up though when he unveils a ’79 Yamaha XS 750 motorcycle, which he bought as soon as he was released from prison on parole in 2017.

“I bought a Suzuki JR80 and rebuilt that for my grandson,” he said. “They picked that up about two days ago.”

A very old but pristine full-size pickup truck sits in the driveway.

“I can’t afford the gas,” he said. “It gets 9 miles to the gallon idling.”

Haas has been forced to adapt to uncomfortable changes during the last five years, like smartphones, modern dating and high prices.

The Virginia Court of Appeals ruled last year that Haas, who was found guilty in 1994 of sexually abusing his children, is innocent. On Friday, the General Assembly approved legislation to pay him $1.5 million for his wrongful incarceration, which lasted 23 years. That measure now heads to Gov. Glenn Youngkin's desk.

Hass said he spends a lot of time helping people around the neighborhood.

“I go around and cut people’s yards if they need cut,” he said. “If they don’t have any money, I don’t worry about it. That’s about it. The woman next door fell down. I go over there in the middle of the night and pick her up. The neighbor over here, she just passed. I cut her grass every week.”

Since being paroled, Haas lived here with his late mother, who died shortly before he was exonerated. She supported him through numerous attempts to prove his innocence.

“She’d be happy I’m exonerated, but she’d still be angry at the system,” he said.

Haas was 38 years old when he was arrested after a family therapist said Haas’s sons, who were 9 and 11 at the time, told her Haas had sodomized them. Now in their 40s, both recanted the testimonies they gave at trial and signed affidavits explaining that they were coerced into testifying against their father during their parents' divorce.

“They have been trying to right that wrong for a very, very long time,” said Emilee Hasbrouck, an attorney for Haas who worked for former Attorney General Mark Herring in his now-defunct Conviction Integrity Unit. “Unfortunately, the criminal legal system values finality over truth.”

Hasbrouck is representing another exoneree, David Kingrea, whose request for compensation is also before the General Assembly this year. Kingrea is expected to take home $58,000 for the year he was incarcerated. But the law does not permit compensation for the eight years he spent on Virginia’s sex offender registry. A bill that would have authorized the state to pay back people in Kingrea's situation died earlier this month.

Haas filed a petition for a writ of actual innocence in July 2020 — shortly after a Virginia law went into effect that made it easier for people to have their cases reexamined. With his sons’ recantations and medical advancements contradicting the evidence presented at trial, the court granted Haas’s petition in April 2022.

Haas didn’t really celebrate, but he had a lot to look forward to. He left the state for the first time since his conviction — for a beach vacation with his sister. And he could finally toss the GPS ankle monitor and accompanying transponder that he’s carried with him for five years.

“I have accidentally laid it down and went somewhere and come back and it’s beeping red and you have to call in and get it disabled,” he said. “In the middle of the night, it would go off because the satellite couldn’t pick you up, so you have to go outside and stand.”

Prior to his exoneration, Haas couldn’t go to services at a church with a nursery because of his sex offender status. And on Halloween, he had to keep his lights off and refrain from answering the door to trick-or-treaters.

“That was painful to take,” he said. “I was a Cub Scout leader for two years and had 16 boys in my troop. We were the best of friends.”

The former auto mechanic, who is now in his 60s, is looking forward to owning a small piece of land.

“Anywhere next to a river so I can hunt and fish,” he said. “A couple of cows. That’s what I want."

Haas has a lot of rebuilding to do, he said. Especially the relationships he lost with his children, to whom he still seldom talks.

“You can’t make up the time,” he said. “So, you have to start out new. You’ve got to look at your age and try to figure out where you want to take your life and what you want to do.”

Haas is also trying to forge new relationships with his five grandchildren the best way he can — through the gift of hand-me-down, rebuilt motorcycles and some patience. At this point, Haas has enough to spare.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.