It’s been more than a year since Jens Soering asked Governor Terry McAuliffe for a pardon. The former UVA honors student was convicted of killing his girlfriend’s parents at their Bedford County home in 1985 but a new analysis of DNA showed type-O blood found at the home of Nancy and Derek Haysom did not come from Soering as argued by the local prosecutor. Now, Sandy Hausman reports that a new investigator is adding his name to the plea for pardon.
For nearly 20 years, Richard Hudson was a detective on the Charlottesville Police Force. As a rule he doesn’t think prisoners should be released early through pardons or parole.
“For me to it’s a very high standard to get put in jail," he explains. "When that standard is met then I think if you do the crime you do the time."
But after spending 250 hours reviewing transcripts of the trial, police reports and evidence, he says Jens Soering’s case is something else, and he hopes nothing like it could ever happen again.
That’s because, more than 20 years after the bloody murders of Derek and Nancy Haysom, Virginia’s crime lab analyzed DNA from the scene.
“The 2009 report was kind of earth-shattering, but you had to look at it and understand what it said for it to make a difference," Hudson says. "There had been O-type blood discovered at the Haysom murder scene in 1985, and the Commonwealth’s position, their theory was that O-type blood came from Jens Soering. Well the 2009 analysis eliminated Jens Soering from contributing that blood.”
But it was some years before Soering made that discovery by comparing original crime scene reports with the 2009 analysis. The DNA study also showed type-AB blood had come from another mystery man.
“So what we’re seeing right now are two people. We can’t see their faces, but their DNA from their blood was left behind,” he concludes.
The victims’ daughter, Elizabeth, had friends from Bedford, including a local drug dealer. She had used LSD and heroine, and had said many times that she hated her parents. She is still behind bars as an accessory to the crime but claims Soering alone was responsible. Several law enforcement experts, including an FBI profiler, thought Elizabeth – not Jens -- was behind the murders.
Retired Detective Hudson also made a new observation from a crime scene photo.
“We found a sheet missing from the bed.”
That’s significant, he says, because at the crime scene it appeared someone had attempted to mop up blood.
“Blood was smeared around on the floor in several places to obliterate evidence in my opinion. I mean there’s no other reason to do it. Nobody was finger painting in there, you know,” Hudson says.
And later Elizabeth would tell investigators that Jens Soering returned after the murders wrapped in a bloody sheet. Sheriff Harding, who has also analyzed the case, seizes on that point.
“We think she knew there was a white sheet going to be missing, covered in blood, and it would further implicate her alleged boyfriend.”
And Hudson wonders how Soering could have returned to the Washington D.C. hotel where he and Elizabeth were staying, wrapped in a sheet.
“I can’t imagine a male walking through the lobby of a hotel in a populated place like D.C. no matter what time it was with no pants on, and nobody noticing it.”
He’s also skeptical of Elizabeth’s claim that Jens told her to clean bloodstains from the car with Coca Cola.
“Coca Cola won’t remove blood, and it makes a bigger mess. When the Bedford folks interviewed the car rental people, they said the car was immaculate," Hudson says.
Given these and other concerns, he shares Sheriff Harding’s conclusion. “I don’t think there’s any way in the world you could put a case on and convict Jens Soering today,” Harding says.
“And if he didn’t do it, who did?" Hudson wonders. "Let’s go figure that out.”
And that’s just what they plan to do. So far, they have no suspects, but there are suspicions.
“Let’s just say they are persons of interest. There are some things we’ve learned that we can’t talk about at all, and they are people that absolutely refuse to talk to us, to have anything to do with us. Right now we have no authority to make them do anything at all,” Harding admits.
Also refusing to talk is Ricky Gardner, the Bedford County detective who made his name on the Soering case, and Governor McAuliffe who promised to investigate the matter more than a year ago. The governor’s chief investigator, Trudy Harris, says there are other cases ahead of Soering’s, and she needs to look into those first.
McAuliffe may be planning a run for president in 2020, and Soering supporters fear the governor will sacrifice justice for political gain, denying Republicans a chance to call him "soft on crime." Meanwhile, experienced law men like Chip Harding worry about a broken system of justice.
“If we get it right 99% of the time but wrong 1% of the time, that means still more than 10,000 Americans a year are being incarcerated," Harding says. "A lot of the data you read will say we get it wrong 5-7% of the time. I pray it’s not that bad, but when you amplify that over the years, you're talking about hundreds of thousands of people.”
If the governor chooses not to pardon Soering, he could still be freed by the parole board, which will consider that in October, and there may be additional pressure to act in November, when ABC’s magazine show 20/20 plans to air its story on the case.
Editor's note: Our original story indicated Elizabeth Haysom had attended high school in Bedford County. In fact, she was educated at an English boarding school.