The Virginia Parole Board has, again, refused to release Jens Soering, a former honors student from the University of Virginia, convicted of killing his girlfriend Elizabeth Haysom’s parents with a knife.
She is also behind bars as an accomplice to the gruesome crime. Both have been model prisoners, and both are eligible for parole or a pardon from the governor.
Pressure from Soering’s homeland, Germany, is building, and some prominent people here in Virginia question his guilt.
Bernadette Faber teaches middle school in a small German city near Spangdahlem Air Base. Since 2007, she’s devoted much of her spare time and energy to the case of Jens Soering. “More than six years ago, in 2007, I saw one of the first German TV reports about the case. I was shocked about the terribly long incarceration of Jens in light of all these doubts of his guilt and was horrified about a justice system which doesn’t give him an opportunity for a retrial.”
She and a friend, actress Anna Utzerath, come to Virginia yearly to meet with Soering and his supporters. In Germany, they founded a group called Friends of Jens, organizing online. He now has 4,000 friends on Facebook, and about 3,000 people have written to President Obama, Chancellor Angela Merkel and other officials who could arrange for Soering to be sent back to Germany.
A prominent intellectual once imprisoned in East Germany has joined the cause. Dr. Wolfgang Welsch questions a previous parole board claim that the community would be endangered if Jens were released.
“That’s what Americans call bull. Jens Soering should have been extradited to Germany immediately. He would present no risk to the community.”
This week, when it denied Seoring parole, the board did not mention risk to the community – although it did suggest release of Elizabeth Haysom might be a danger to the public.
The Soering case has received tremendous media attention in Germany, has inspired a stage play, and next year, German theaters will screen The Promise -- a documentary on the subject.
Co-producer Karin Steinberger says there were many mistakes in Jens’ original confession. It had Mr. Haysom’s body in the dining room, when – in fact – it was in the living room, and Soering said Mrs. Haysom was wearing jeans, when she wore a blue and paisley robe.
WVTF and RadioIQ tried to verify that claim, digging through a chaotic collection of evidence at the Bedford County Courthouse. Legal documents, reports on body fluids, photographs of the crime scene and love letters were randomly stored in cardboard boxes, bags and envelopes. When we came across several cassette tapes which likely contained Soering’s confession, the county clerk – Cathy Hogan -- refused to let us hear them, arguing they might break.
Former Deputy Attorney General Gail Marshall believes Bedford County is still protecting the prominent Haysom family, and jurors from neighboring Amherst County were doing so when they convicted a young German student of a crime he may not have committed. "The people in Bedford had a choice between deciding whether it was one of their own or whether it was a foreigner. Given the choice, you’d much rather find it was a stranger than your own child. "
When the Soering family asked Marshall to review the case and lead an appeal, she concluded Soering was not guilty. “It’s not the way most anybody who’s not under the control of drugs or intense mental hatred would go about doing away with somebody.”
On the other hand, she points out that Elizabeth was an admitted drug user who wrote letters attacking her parents and wishing them dead. Marshall’s arguments persuaded Tom Elliott, a deacon in the Catholic archdiocese of Washington, DC. He’s known prison inmate Jens Soering since 2005, and cannot see him at the crime scene.
“The wounds and everything about that scene implies that it was someone with rage. I’ve never seen that kind of rage. He has an impeccable record in the system.”
In our final report, we’ll look at diplomatic efforts to get Soering out of the Buckingham Correctional Center, and tell you why politics in Virginia could lead to parole.