Virginia’s parole board held hearing number twelve yesterday for Jens Soering, a former UVA honors student from Germany who was convicted of killing his girlfriend’s parents in 1985. Soering’s conviction was based in part on a finding of type O blood at the crime scene, but DNA testing now shows the type O blood came from another man, and Soering’s lawyer shared the new genetic evidence with the parole board.
Virginia’s five-person parole board does not hear cases as a group. Instead, one member hears from crime victims and advocates for the prisoner. This year, it was Adrienne Bennet who listened as Soering’s lawyer, Steve Rosenfield, presented a long list of reasons why he thinks his client is innocent. He shared a DNA report proving type O blood at the scene came not from Soering but from some other man, and – for the first time – he announced two samples of type AB blood had not come from one of the victims – Nancy Haysom – as originally claimed by prosecutors.
“The 2009 DNA test proved that the AB was contributed by a male, because a Y chromosome was found, so now we know for the first time that there were two male participants at the crime scene, neither of which was Jens Soering.”
He also shared evidence not disclosed to the jury, including the view of an FBI profiler suggesting the killer was a woman who knew her victims well. Of course, a parole board is not supposed to review the original trial, but Rosenfield felt these details should be considered.
“The parole board is supposed to make a determination about whether somebody is safe to release, and by everybody’s standards, somebody who is innocent should not be in prison.”
An official from the German government told parole board member Adrienne Bennett that Soering has friends in his homeland who will give him employment, computer training and a place to live, and he presented a new petition from Germany’s parliament with signatures from more than a hundred members calling for Soering’s release. Catholic Deacon Tom Elliott, who befriended Soering over many years, and attorney Gail Marshall who has known him for two decades said they had no reason to believe the man could commit a violent crime, adding that he has served more than 30 years in prison without breaking a single rule.
The parole board has said it may take six weeks or longer to reach a final decision. If Soering gets parole, he must return to Germany but says he will pursue a pardon from the Governor. We spoke with him by phone from the Buckingham Correctional Center.
“There are other innocent men in Virginia prisons right now, and I’m hoping that my case brings some attention to that, that my case will prevent miscarriages of justice in future. If all I get is parole, then that’s not going to lead to any changes.”
So is he feeling hopeful about the prospects for parole?
“I’m not. More than anything else I’m feeling scared. I’ve been in this place before many, many times over the last 30 years. At different stages things looked like they were really going to work out for me finally, and then they didn’t. Seven years ago I received a letter from the governor telling me to go home, and then that was reversed.”
Soering says his former girlfriend, who is also behind bars as an accomplice, actually took part in the murders. She recently claimed her mother had sexually abused her for eight years, and Elizabeth Haysom admitted to using drugs like heroin and LSD. Soering believes her accomplices may also have been involved with drugs, and he thinks she is not naming them, because admitting involvement in the crime would ruin her chances for parole.