Like Jens Soering, Amanda Knox was a college student when she was convicted of murder. She spent four years in an Italian prison for the 2007 murder of her roommate in Perugia, and her case became a cause célèbre before she was acquitted in 2015.
Since her return to the United States, she’s become an activist for the wrongfully accused, and has a podcast with Sundance called “The Truth about True Crime.”
Knox sees similarities in her case and Soering’s that “cut to the bone,” she says in the first of the eight-part series that streamed May 29.
Soering was convicted of the brutal 1985 murders of Bedford couple Derek and Nancy Haysom, the parents of his girlfriend, Elizabeth Haysom. Soering was 18 when he met the two-and-a-half years older Haysom at UVA, where they both were Echols scholars.
He was also a virgin, who said he was besotted with the alluring older woman. Soering said when Haysom told him she’d killed her parents, he offered to take the fall, believing that because his father was a German diplomat, he’d have immunity that would limit his imprisonment to 10 years.
The case was an international sensation, with Soering described as a “love slave” to Haysom’s “femme fatale,” says Knox. Her series “paints a much more human picture.”
She, too, was caricatured, called “Lady Macbeth” and a “master manipulator.” Says Knox, “When I hear these descriptions, alarm bells go off.”
She lists other “haunting and almost unbelievable echoes” to her own case: the brutality of the slayings, the police screw-ups, the young lovers as suspects, the media spectacle, the disputed alibi, and the questionable forensics.
“It all gave me déjà vu,” says Knox.
Jens Soering has been in prison for 33 years, and Knox is the latest high-profile person to voice support for him, joining writer John Grisham, actor Martin Sheen, Albemarle Sheriff Chip Harding, Innocence Project founder Jason Flom, and most recently, former Nelson Mandela attorney Irwin Cotler.
A German documentary on the case called Killing for Love was released in 2016. That same year, Soering’s attorney, Steve Rosenfield, filed a petition for pardon to the administration of then-governor Terry McAuliffe, but McAuliffe didn’t act on it.
Three years later, the case is “in the hands of the pardon investigators,” says Harding, who believes it could wrap up this summer.
Harding thinks Knox’s involvement will help Soering’s case. “Public awareness will help in any case where there could be a wrongful conviction,” he says.
Soering was convicted by a jury in 1990 and sentenced to two life sentences, in part because of the testimony of Haysom, who is serving a 45-year sentence as an accessory before the fact.
Information the jury was given then can be challenged by subsequent technology, says Harding. For example, DNA analysis was not available at that time, and the jury would not have known that recent findings identified the blood of two different people at the Haysom home—but not Soering’s.
And some of the evidence the jury was given, such as a bloody sock print the prosecution claimed belonged to Soering, falls under the category today of “junk science.” Says Harding, “That jury was given information known to be wrong at the time.”
Frustrating for many reexamining the case, including Harding and a handful of other police investigators, is “the lack of cooperation from Bedford County,” where Soering was convicted, Harding says.
Says Knox, “What I learned shocked me, angered me, and moved me in ways I wasn’t ready for.”