Additional Evidence Driving Force Behind Jens Soering's Pardon Request

Aug 25, 2016

Yesterday, in a story exclusive to WVTF and the Washington Post, reporter Sandy Hausman revealed new evidence in the case of a former UVA honors student, convicted in 1990 in the bloody murder of his girlfriend’s parents.  DNA analysis now appears to confirm what Jens Soering has been saying all along - that another man committed the crime.  Today, we look at additional evidence supporting Soering’s request for a pardon from the governor.

German journalist Karin Steinberger and filmmaker Marcus Vetter spent years making this documentary about their countryman, Jens Soering, a brilliant young man who fell in love with a troubled young woman at the University of Virginia.  Their film, called The Promise, shares letters in which Elizabeth Haysom details hatred for her parents.  She says she’s using her mental powers to do them in.

“It seems my concentration on their death is causing them problems. My father nearly drove over a cliff, and my mother fell into a fire.  I think I shall seriously take up black magic.”

But that was not necessary. 

In 1985, someone murdered Nancy and Derek Haysom - stabbing them repeatedly and cutting their throats.  An FBI profiler concluded the killer was a woman who knew her victims well, and Elizabeth Haysom may have had motives.  She told lead detective Ricky Gardner that her mother had abused her and took nude pictures of her as a teen.  Gardner saw the pictures, but dismissed Elizabeth's claim as irrelevant.

“She had acknowledged that her mother had touched her and fondled her and tried to have a romantic relationship with her.  It doesn’t link back to the murder or anything.”

But the co-director of the documentary, Karin Steinberger, disagreed. 

“I know it was a huge taboo in the 80’s - especially sexual abuse by the mother. These pictures were sealed off.  They weren’t there at the court, so this is incredible, because this makes a huge motive."

Credit Associated Press

The judge, a friend of Mrs. Haysom’s brother, didn’t buy it.

“I have been on the bench for 22 years.  Most of the time cases have not bothered me too much, but I have lost some sleep over this one.  Many of Elizabeth’s accusations against her parents, particularly her mother, were the product of fantasy.” 

He sentenced her to 90 years as an accessory after the crime and gave Soering two life sentences.  A jury was convinced of his guilt, in part, by the testimony of a tire track expert who looked at a bloody sock print at the crime scene, then compared it with Soering’s foot.  The prosecutor said it fit like a glove, but former Deputy Attorney General Gail Marshall, who handled Soering’s appeal, says that was junk science.

“The reason it sounds semi-scientific is we think of foot prints and fingerprints, but that’s because there are dermal ridges on your hands and on your toes, and they’re pretty unique.  You can’t identify anything from a sock print.”

She thought the crime scene also pointed to Elizabeth, who admitted to using heroin and LSD.

"She has a history of drug abuse and alcohol abuse, and if you look at the scene of this murder, they appear to be someone who is very high on something. I mean there are things thrown around. In fact, they thought there were actually gang members drawing on the walls with the blood."

Many people familiar with the case say Elizabeth could not have carried out the murders alone, but she did have friends in the area - including her drug dealer, the son of a local judge.  In The Promise, a neighbor tells the court what she and her husband saw as they drove past the Haysom house some time before the murders.

“It was just getting dark.  We saw every light inside and outside of the house on.  On the driveway I would say there were at least five or six cars.”

Elizabeth still insists Jens committed the crime alone, but psychiatrists have variously diagnosed her as a pathological liar, someone with borderline personality disorder and borderline schizophrenia, and the documentary shows her half-brother, Howard Haysom, calling her a liar in court.

“She has lied to me in the past, and frankly continues to lie.  I think Elizabeth was in the house at the time of the crime.”

Investigators were unable to identify a fingerprint at the scene or a hair found in a sink, and they cannot explain why the rental car Soering reportedly drove to Bedford County contained not a trace of blood. 

All of this lends credence to the claim of a local auto repair shop owner who says a different car was towed-in around the time of the murders. His mechanics called him to take a look.

“The floor mat was full of dried blood, and between the seat and the console was a knife, and me being a hunter, I thought somebody had been up there spotlighting a deer, shot him, and then got in the blood or something and put in the floor board, so we didn’t pay any more attention to it until this picture came out in the paper.”

Credit Associated Press

The picture showed Jens and Elizabeth.  Tony Buchanan said he remembered her coming to retrieve the car - paying with a credit card that was at first declined. 

He says she made a call and after about half an hour the charge came through.  That gave him time to study Elizabeth and the man who accompanied her.  Buchanan says the man pictured in the paper - Jens Soering - was not the guy who came with Elizabeth.

All of this information is contained in a 25-page document sent to Governor Terry McAuliffe requesting a full pardon for Soering.  Such requests have, in the past, taken more than a year to process, and some politicians see pardons as a risky business.  But McAuliffe insists he's fair in cases of this kind.

“I mean if you were thinking politics, Sandy, I think most people would tell you you ought to err on the side of not doing this. I don’t do that. I do what I think is right.”

But this is an election year, with the governor’s close ally Hillary Clinton running for president, and his predecessor up for V.P. 

Tim Kaine is already coming under attack from Republicans who note he tried to send Soering -- a convicted killer -- back to Germany -- a move blocked in 2009 by the newly elected governor, Republican Bob McDonnell.