Jens Soering: Doubts, Politics & Possible Parole
Four years ago, then Governor Tim Kaine was talking with the Justice Department about transferring Jens Soering back to his homeland, Germany.
A jury had found the former UVA honors student guilty of killing his girlfriend’s parents in Bedford County.
Jens at first confessed to the crime, then said he did so only to protect the actual killer -- the woman he loved.
The case against Jens Soering was based on his confession to the brutal murder of Derek and Nancy Haysom, but DNA technology was not yet available to police, and there was no physical evidence that proved he was the killer.
An FBI-trained technician did compare Soering’s foot print with a bloody sock print at the Haysom’s home, but Gail Marshall, a lawyer who led Soering’s appeal, says that was pseudo-science.
“He had done overlays of Jens’ foot and the sock print, and he said there are significant correspondences. The reason it sounds semi-scientific is we think of finger prints, but that’s because there are dermal ridges on your hands, and they’re pretty unique. A sock print doesn’t have anything like that.”
In fact, looking at size, she argued the sock print was more likely left by Elizabeth.
The German public also wonders about Elizabeth’s mental health. She was the prosecution’s star witness, but one psychiatrist described her as borderline schizophrenic and a pathological liar. Karin Steinberger, an investigative reporter for one of Germany’s top newspapers, says jurors should have given more weight to the testimony of Elizabeth’s half brother – a doctor from Houston. I spoke with Steinberger at a café in Munich.
“You know her half-brother stated in court that Elizabeth always lied, and she will always lie, and I’m pretty sure she was in the house at the time of the murder.”
She was also stunned to learn that Elizabeth accused her mother of sexual abuse. Nancy Haysom, who was an artist, had even taken nude photographs of her daughter – a fact dismissed by the lead detective in the case – Ricky Gardner.
“She acknowledged that her mother had touched her and fondled her and tried to have a romantic relationship with her. You don’t think it’s significant? No, no. It’s bizarre, but it didn’t link back to the murder or anything.”
During an aggressive cross-examination, Elizabeth withdrew the charge, but Steinberger sees child abuse as a possible motive for the crime. She also discovered that within a week of the bloody Haysom murders there was another killing -- with a knife -- in Roanoke. Two individuals confessed and are in prison for that crime. Legal documents indicate one told a fellow inmate that they also killed the Haysoms, but Steinberger says no one investigated that claim.
“You know killing with knives is not very usual. It is actually very hard to kill a person with a knife. All I wonder is why nobody would bother, y’know, asking these questions. It’s 25 years ago. Why did nobody follow up on these two guys who killed somebody else with a knife – very brutally? Why did never, ever any person ask those two people?”
And finally, there are questions about the legal process. Critics in Germany are also surprised that the judge in Soering’s case was a friend of the Haysom family – that he said, publicly, that he thought Soering was guilty, even before the trial began.
Anna Utzerath, who coordinates social media for Soering in Germany, also points out that Jens was interrogated and confessed in Britain without legal counsel. “For me the most unfair moments are that Jens Soering, when he was 19 years old, was held for four days in isolation. In this time, he was not allowed to speak to his lawyer.”
Since Soering’s trial in 1990, some new information has come to light, prompting supporters in the U.S. and Germany to call for his release. We’ll look at those developments in our next report.