Under pressure from Governor Terry McAuliffe, Virginia’s parole board has doubled its release rate – freeing six percent of eligible inmates in 2016, up from three percent last year. Tomorrow, the board will consider an especially controversial case – that of a convicted killer who’s been behind bars here for 26 years.
During that time, former UVA honors student Jens Soering has insisted he did not murder his girlfriend’s parents in Bedford County – that he confessed to the crime only to protect her. Thursday’s hearing will involve some new advocates – fellow German citizens living in Virginia.
A group of eight German businessmen met over lunch in suburban Richmond this week to talk strategy. They want Virginia’s parole board to send Jens Soering home. Michael Kuhn is a lawyer who represents several companies in German-speaking countries. He does not believe Soering could have acted alone –killing two people with a knife – as claimed by the prosecution, and he notes Soering has been a model prisoner.
“After being in a Virginia prison for 26 years without any infraction, not even minor infractions, it’s just time to send him home. He’s not going to be allowed ever to return to the United States, so he can do no harm on American soil, plus before the trial this man has not even been involved in any fist fight. He looks like a meeky, geeky kind of guy. When you look at the images of his trial in Bedford County, even as a 21-year-old he looks like a 13 or 14-year-old.”
He argues that an international treaty requires Soering be sent back to a prison in Germany, and failure to comply is bad for business. Virginia’s Secretary of Commerce and Trade, Todd Haymore, says Germany is an important international player in this state’s economy.
“We’ve recruited a number of businesses and industry there over the course of the McAuliffe administration. Aldi is probably the best example, the most recent example of investment they are making in Virginia to have a pretty significant distribution center. Obviously they are a big importer of our agricultural products.”
Several petitions are circulating in Germany, demanding Soering’s release, and the head of that country’s Parliament has signed one of them. A representative of the German government may be on hand Thursday at noon, when advocates, including Michael Kuhn, will be allowed to address a single member of the parole board. She has agreed to extend the hearing time from the usual 30 minutes to an hour.