It’s been more than 30 years since police arrested Jens Soering, an honors student from the University of Virginia, and charged him with the brutal murder of his girlfriend’s parents in their Bedford County home. To this day, Soering insists he is innocent, but he’s been turned down for parole nearly a dozen times. Today, his lawyer filed a petition asking for a full pardon - citing new evidence that Soering is not guilty.
Jens Soering recently turned 50. He’s spent more than half his life behind bars for killing Derek and Nancy Haysom, the parents of his first love - Elizabeth, also an honors student at UVA.
“Mr. Haysom was stabbed 36 times. His throat was cut.”
Ricky Gardner was the lead investigator in that case.
“All the major structures of his neck were severed - carotid, jugular, wind pipe, and Mrs. Haysom the same.”
Gardner was convinced that Soering acted alone, but before the rookie detective took charge, the case was assigned to a seasoned officer named Chuck Reid.
“Chuck Reid does not think that Jens Soering committed the crime. He thinks that Elizabeth was at the house along with one or more other people.”
That’s Soering’s lawyer, Steve Rosenfield. He learned about Reid from a new German documentary called The Promise. It also features an FBI profiler who recently died. His name was Ed Sulzbach.
“Mrs. Haysom’s wearing her nightgown with a robe and it occurred to me that Mrs. Haysom would never entertain strangers in such attire. We’re dealing with somebody who’s close to these people.”
He settled on Elizabeth as the prime suspect, but his profile was never shared with Soering’s defense team as required by law, and the FBI now says it does not have the document.
Before he came to trial, Soering had actually confessed to the crime. Later he said he did that to protect Elizabeth. He was the son of a low-level German diplomat and assumed he’d be sent back to his homeland for trial. Germany rarely imposes long sentences for young killers. The documentary bolsters Soering’s claim, sharing excerpts from letters Jens and Elizabeth wrote to each other after their arrest.
“Promise me, Jens. Whatever it takes now, promise me you will not let me ruin your life. I’ve seriously f***** up mine. Don’t let me destroy yours. I would kill myself if I discovered you were compromising yourself for me.”
“You are in a horrible position, more horrible than mine. Let me clear a couple of things up - erase all written evidence of Bedford, cross it out. That’s all I have time for, Sweetie. Always trust me. Always love me.”
“I have been upset, scared, lonely, worried. You won’t leave me to take the wrap alone.”
“If I go to Germany and get convicted, I will go away for only a few years. Your parole board will give you early parole, especially when they take my early release into consideration, so in a few years we will hopefully both be out and together. Trust me and go with the flow.”
Additional support comes from a new report written by a British expert on police interrogations. Again, attorney Steve Rosenfield:
“He spent five months reviewing hundreds and hundreds of pages of trial transcript, looking at diagrams, pictures, consulting with other experts, and he concluded that Jens Soering’s confession was unreliable.”
Unreliable in part because Soering got key details wrong - claiming, for example, that Mrs. Haysom was wearing blue jeans when - in fact - she wore a paisley robe. Unreliable, too, because Soering, who had fled to England when he became a suspect, was kept in isolation during his interrogation - not allowed to consult with a lawyer.
“Unheard of in this country as being lawful, and yet we have the report that we will be submitting to the governor in which they put an entry in the log that says, ‘Soering is to be kept incommunicado, and Soering asked to talk to a solicitor and was denied that opportunity.”
At the time of the crime, DNA analysis was not possible, but the state’s crime lab identified four blood types at the scene. Type A was Mr. Haysom, AB was Mrs. Haysom, Type B was Elizabeth and then there was type O. Prosecutors made much of the fact that Soering is type O, so by the way, is 48% of the population.
Seven years ago, the crime lab tested eleven blood samples from the Haysom home and found no DNA from Soering. The technician didn’t know what types of blood she was testing, but former detective Ricky Gardner claimed none of the samples were O. This summer, Jens Soering learned otherwise. Because Virginia bans reporting at the Buckingham Correctional Center, we spoke with him by phone.
“I thought why not cross reference the 1985 blood typing test results against the 2009 DNA test results.”
He found two type O samples that had, in fact, been DNA tested.
“So what we know now is that Derek and Nancy Haysom’s killer had type O blood, and we know from the DNA test results that this person with the type O blood was a male, because it has XY chromosomes, but we know with equal certainty that this male type O person was not me. I’m completely, 100% eliminated.”
In other words, the DNA sequence of the type O blood found at the scene of the crime was different from the DNA sequence of Jens Soering's blood.
And there are other reasons to believe someone else committed the crime for which Soering has served 31 years. We’ll look at those in our next report.