During the 30 years he’s spent in prison, Jens Soering has maintained he had nothing to do with the brutal 1985 murders of Derek and Nancy Haysom, and that he only confessed to protect his girlfriend, Elizabeth Haysom, from the death penalty.
Now Tim Kaine, the governor who agreed to send Soering back to Germany in 2010, a decision overturned by his successor, Bob McDonnell, is running for vice president, and Soering’s attorney has filed a petition for absolute pardon with Governor Terry McAuliffe, thrusting the case back into the international spotlight.
Germany, from its highest levels of government, has long lobbied for Soering’s return, and Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the case with President Barack Obama. German filmmakers have made a documentary, The Promise, on the heinous case in which two UVA Echols scholars were convicted that premiered in Munich in March and will be screened in the U.S. later this year.
Attorney Steve Rosenfield filed the petition August 23 and says he has indisputable scientific evidence that proves Soering, 50, is innocent. He points to a 1985 lab analysis of blood taken from the Haysoms’ Bedford home, which documents five stains of type O human blood—the same as Soering’s, but also the most common blood type.
In 2009, DNA analysis was done on two of those samples—the others were too degraded—and Virginia’s Department of Forensic Science said that Soering was “eliminated as a contributor.”
“That completely undermines the government’s argument it was Soering’s blood,” says Rosenfield.
But that’s not all. Rosenfield has a laundry list of errors made during the investigation and prosecution of Soering, who says he confessed because he thought his father’s mid-level diplomatic status would give him immunity.
An expert on police interrogations and confessions, Dr. Andrew Griffiths spent four months reviewing all statements Soering made to police and prosecutors after he and Haysom were caught in London a year after the murders, and concluded British and American investigators “violated a host of British laws,” says Rosenfield, including holding Soering incommunicado and denying him access to his solicitor.
Soering also failed to accurately describe the crime scene, says Rosenfield. The UVA student claimed he was in the dining room, walked behind Derek Haysom and sliced his throat. “Why didn’t we find blood on the table?” asks Rosenfield. Haysom was found with 38 stab wounds in the living room, which was awash in blood.
Nancy Haysom was wearing her night clothes, and FBI profiler Ed Sluzbach said the killer was someone she was very comfortable with because she was a “proper woman” and wouldn’t have entertained in her pajamas. Soering said she was wearing jeans, says Rosenfield.
Elizabeth Haysom, who is serving 90 years in the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women as an accessory before the fact, claimed she was in Washington, D.C., to establish an alibi while Soering drove to Bedford to kill her parents. Yet a dishrag was found near Nancy Haysom’s body with type B blood, the same type as Elizabeth’s, says Rosenfield.
Elizabeth also alleged she was on a street in Georgetown when Soering drove up in the rental car, covered in blood and wearing only a sheet. Detectives sprayed the car with Luminol, which causes even minute flecks of blood to light up in blue. No stains turned up in the car, according to Rosenfield.
Prosecutors in the 1990 trial also tied Soering to a sock print, the use of which has been discredited by the FBI and American Academy of Forensic Scientists, along with bite marks. In 2009, Innocence Project cofounder Peter Neufeld and UVA law professor/wrongful conviction expert Brandon Garrett wrote an article that asserted sock prints are not accepted as scientific evidence.
And then there’s the mysterious man. About two months after the murders, transmission shop owner Tony Buchanan said he called Bedford investigators because a woman and man brought a car to his shop that had blood on the floorboard and a hunting knife, the type of weapon police believe was used, in between the seats. After Haysom and Soering went on the lam, Buchanan said he recognized her from news photos, but the man with her was not Soering. Police never responded to his information, Rosenfield says.
Rosenfield held a press conference August 24, during which he criticized Republicans and right-wing media who are “uninterested in the facts of the case” and who instead are targeting Hillary Clinton’s running mate Kaine for attempting to repatriate Soering under the terms of an international treaty.
Present at the press conference were Kaine staffers who spent months investigating the case, which McDonnell rejected immediately upon taking office with no investigation, according to Rosenfield.
Not only does Rosenfield want Soering given an absolute pardon, but while the parole board investigates the case, he wants Soering released from the Buckingham Correctional Center on parole “in light of Jens’ innocence.”
Rosenfield represented former Crozet resident Robert Davis, who spent 13 years in prison after making a false confession. McAuliffe granted him a conditional pardon December 21, 2015.