Since his trial in 1990, former UVA honors student Jens Soering has maintained he did not kill his girlfriend’s parents – a prominent couple from Bedford County, though initially he did confess to the crimes.
But after he was convicted, new information came out, and the German government asked Virginia to send Soering – a German citizen – home.
From the beginning, there was no physical evidence to prove Jens Soering killed Derek and Nancy Haysom, the parents of his girlfriend Elizabeth. Recent tests on 42 pieces of evidence from the crime scene found no DNA from Soering. And when the Chief Detective, Ricky Gardner, looked for blood in the car Jens allegedly drove, he found none.
"We did a luminal of the car. Luminal reacts to dried blood or invisible blood, and there was no sign of any blood in the car. Had there been just a minute spot of blood or whatever, the luminal would have still showed up for that."
Soering offered a simple explanation: Elizabeth committed the crime with help from another man and another vehicle. In 2011 the owner of a Bedford County transmission shop – Tony Buchanan – came forward to tell of a car dropped off at his shop shortly after the Haysom murders. When he got to work on Monday, he called the towing company.
“And they said they had towed it in from the woods somewhere – two college kids. Now when the car came in – the mechanics, they come to me and told me to look at what they’d seen in the car. That’s when I went and looked. The floor mat was full of dried blood, and between the seat and the console was a knife laying down in there. Me being a hunter, I thought somebody had been up there spotlighting a deer and then shot him and put him on the floorboard, so we didn’t pay no more attention to it until this picture came out in the paper.”
He holds an article about the Haysom murders, with a photo of Elizabeth. Buchanan says she is definitely the woman who retrieved the car. He remembers her, because it took a while for her credit card payment to clear.
“The card was rejected. She got on the phone and talked to them at the bank. She got off and said she was going to call somebody, and she called somebody in Florida. About thirty minutes later I put the card in and it went through alright.”
But the other person pictured in that newspaper article – Jens Soering – looked nothing like the man who had accompanied the woman who picked up the car. Buchanan figured police had the matter under control, but years later he learned that Elizabeth’s uncle lived in Florida, and he thought maybe he should report what he’d seen. Buchanan claims he called Detective Gardner, but Gardner says he didn’t get the message and doubts the story.
“If you lived around Lynchburg, Virginia from 1985 to 1990, you knew about the Haysom case. I couldn’t go anywhere without somebody asking about the Haysom case. Now he wants to come out with this revelation. I don’t know what his motivation is, but I don’t believe a word of that.”
Nor does he worry about a fingerprint found on a glass at the crime scene – a print that has never been identified.
His supporters believe such details should lead to a new investigation – or maybe a new trial for Soering, but Virginia has something called the 21-day rule. With the exception of evidence that clearly proves innocence – like DNA -- new information can only be considered if it’s submitted within 21 days of a conviction. Gail Marshall is a former deputy attorney general who reviewed the case for the Soering family and filed an appeal.
“Every state has some kind of rule that enough is enough. After we’ve looked at it and looked at it, we have to have some finality to judgments. The question is what is the proper balance between finality and making sure that you’re not convicting an innocent person.”
In our next report, we’ll look at efforts by Germans and Americans to have Soering paroled and tell you why that could happen soon.