BEDFORD, VA., JUNE 21 -- A jury today convicted Jens Soering, the 23-year-old son of a West German diplomat, of murdering his girlfriend's parents in their Bedford County home five years ago and agreed on a sentence of two life terms in prison.
Soering showed no emotion when the verdict was returned after nearly four hours of deliberation. When asked by Circuit Court Judge William Sweeney if there was any reason he should not pass judgment immediately, Soering responded, "I'm innocent." Sentencing will be imposed after a background report is prepared.
Elizabeth Haysom, 26, Soering's girlfriend when they attended the University of Virginia, pleaded guilty in 1987 to plotting the murders and testified last week that Soering killed her parents because they sought to end the romance. She is serving a 90-year sentence for her role in the killings.
Derek Haysom, 72, a retired steel industry executive, was stabbed 39 times. Nancy Haysom, 53, a cousin of Lady Astor, the first woman elected to Britain's House of Commons, was stabbed eight times. Both of their throats were cut from ear to ear.
Commonwealth's Attorney James Updike built his case primarily on Soering's statements to authorities, self-incriminating letters he wrote to Elizabeth Haysom and physical evidence at the murder scene -- a bloody footprint that matched the defendant's blood type and shoe size.
"A person able to do these acts is cold-blooded, calculating, mean and vile," Updike said in closing arguments. "He needs to be convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. It's the only just punishment."
Defense attorney Richard Neaton said the more probable killer was Elizabeth Haysom, an admitted pathological liar and heroin addict who once wrote to Soering that she wanted her parents dead because they meddled in her life.
"The commonwealth is right about one thing in this case," Neaton said. "Whoever killed Mr. and Mrs. Haysom had a lot of hate, anger and revenge. You can almost see Elizabeth Haysom there stabbing each time and saying, 'I hate you, I hate you,' as she cuts the throats of both of her parents."
Soering, who had met the Haysoms only once over lunch, had no reason to hate them, Neaton said. He portrayed his client as an impressionable, emotionally immature virgin who fell in love for the first time with an older, beautiful, manipulative woman.
Once Soering agreed to take the blame for the slayings, Neaton said, "he was trapped in the web Elizabeth Haysom was beginning to weave around him. He was in love with a girl and he wanted to protect her."
Soering and Haysom were arrested in England. Haysom agreed to return to Virginia, but Soering fought removal. A diplomatic agreement reduced the charges against him from capital murder, for which he could have been sentenced to death, to first-degree murder.