It appears Governor Terry McAuliffe will not pardon Jens Soering, a German citizen convicted of a double murder in Virginia 27 years ago. A growing body of evidence suggests Soering is not guilty, and a documentary about his case will open Friday in New York and Los Angeles.
The film produced by German journalists raises strong doubts about whether Jens Soering, an honors student at the University of Virginia, killed his girlfriend’s parents in their Bedford County home. There was no forensic evidence against Soering, and several experienced investigators now think he is innocent.
In the documentary, Chuck Reid, a former criminal investigator for the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, concludes there was “no way this little boy could have done this kind of damage to somebody. He was a little, rosy-cheeked 18-year-old kid!”
Former state Deputy Attorney General Gail Marshall agrees. “I got all the files,” she recalls. “I read all the police reports, and I said, ‘This man is innocent!’”
Before his trial in 1990, investigators asked for DNA analysis of type O blood found at the crime scene.
“Bedford County was interested in those five samples of type O blood, because the two victims had type A and type AB blood,” Soering explains. “The type O blood clearly had to be the killer’s.”
Now serving two life sentences at the Buckingham Correctional Center, Soering has type O blood, but a state crime lab scientist – Elmer Gist – claimed in writing that DNA testing could not be done, because the five type O blood samples were “consumed in previous serological examinations, therefore no DNA analysis is possible.”
And in court he again claimed no type O blood remained to be tested, but when the state ordered DNA testing of many cases back in 2009, analysts found 11 usable blood samples in the file, and two of them were type O.
“And it turns out that they were not mine,” Soering proclaims. “They were somebody else’s!”
This news did not surprise Brandon Garrett, a professor of law at the University of Virginia and an expert on wrongful convictions. He had a client who served nine years in prison for a rape he did not commit, based in part on inaccurate testimony from Elmer Gist in the mid-80’s.
“We still see, in case after case including in Virginia, that analysts misstated the evidence, concealed evidence that could have pointed to innocence – just all sorts of problems,” he says.
We tried to reach Mr. Gist to discuss the Soering case, leaving two voicemails at his home, but he did not return our calls. Meanwhile, Soering’s lawyer has amended his request to the governor – asking for a pardon based on this new concern.
And in New York and L.A., theaters are preparing to present the documentary first shown at the Virginia Film Festival. It was called The Promise but has been re-named Killing for Love. ABC’s magazine show 20/20 is also preparing a special report, and Virginia’s governor, Terry McAuliffe, told us h e intends to make a decision on all pardon requests before leaving office.
“We have a huge, thorough team of lawyers with investigators that are going through and looking at all of these cases,” he told Radio IQ’s David Seidel. “We will have the deck cleared one way or the other, whether we approve it or deny it. I will have all those decisions made by January 13th.”
But a spokesman for the governor now says that won’t happen. In an e-mail, Brian Coy explained that the Governor's office has not received an investigative report from a part-time employee of the parole board, and in his words, “We do not expect that he will before he leaves office.” Coy claimed investigators review these cases in the order they come in, with 15-25 pardon requests arriving each week. Soering’s petition for a pardon, which includes 87 exhibits and 1,200 pages of information based on DNA analysis and hours of study by legal and criminal experts and the head of the Innocence Project at the University of Richmond will not suffice.