RICHMOND — Eighteen Republican state legislators are urging Gov. Terry McAuliffe to keep a German diplomat’s son behind bars in Virginia, where he is serving two life sentences for a 1985 double murder.
McAuliffe (D) is considering whether to allow Jens Soering to transfer to a prison in his native Germany.
In 2010, in one of his last acts as governor, Timothy M. Kaine (D) agreed to allow Soering to transfer to a prison in Germany, where he would have been eligible for parole after two years. But the planned prisoner transfer was promptly halted by his successor, then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R).
Soering was convicted in the killings of his then-girlfriend’s parents, Derek and Nancy Haysom of Bedford County, in central Virginia.
After news leaked last month that Soering had asked McAuliffe to approve his transfer, a group of Republican delegates wrote to the governor to ask that he turn down the request. Their letter, first reported by the Roanoke Times, was signed by every Republican member of the House Courts of Justice Committee, including Del. Robert B. Bell (Albemarle), who announced last week that he will run for Virginia attorney general in 2017.
“His release to Germany would . . . significantly undermine the integrity of Virginia’s criminal justice system and would demonstrate that the justice system provides benefits to the powerful and well connected that are not available to minorities and the less fortunate,” the letter says. “Under Virginia’s system of truth in sentencing, life without parole should mean just that.”
McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy declined to comment on the letter but said Soering’s request remains under consideration.
“It’s under review at our office,” Coy said. “It’s following the same process any clemency or pardon [request] would follow. We’ll have a further announcement when that review is complete.”
Soering has been eligible for parole for years in the United States, but his requests have always been rejected. There was bipartisan support for blocking his transfer in 2010, with lawmakers noting that the murders were particularly grisly. Both victims had been stabbed multiple times and their throats cut from ear to ear. Prosecutors said they were killed because they disapproved of their daughter’s relationship with Soering.
Soering and Elizabeth Haysom, his girlfriend when they attended the University of Virginia, fled overseas and 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.
Haysom is serving a 90-year sentence for her role in the killings. She testified against Soering, who insisted during his trial and since then that he is innocent.
Republicans tried to make the Soering case an issue for Kaine in 2012, when he ran for Senate against former senator George Allen (R). Republicans accused Kaine of failing to fully explain his reasons for requesting the transfer. Kaine offered a financial rationale, saying that Germany, not Virginia, should spend money on Soering’s incarceration.
Several newspapers and Soering himself, in an op-ed in The Washington Post, predicted that Republicans would make Kaine the “Willie Horton of 2012.” But voters were either satisfied with Kaine’s explanation or motivated by other issues; Kaine beat Allen for the Senate seat.
The Soering matter is resurfacing at a time when Kaine is often mentioned as a potential running mate for Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. It also comes as Bell, who led efforts to block the transfer in 2010, is seeking higher office.
Bell invoked the case as he formally launched his campaign last week. He said Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D), who is seeking reelection, had not taken a public stand on Soering’s most recent effort to return to Germany.
On Monday, Herring spokesman Michael Kelly said the attorney general wants Soering to remain behind bars in Virginia. Kelly also noted that as a state senator in 2010, Herring voted in favor of a Senate resolution opposing Soering’s transfer.
“The process is under the governor’s authority, but the attorney general voted to keep him in jail in Virginia and that’s still his position,” spokesman Michael Kelly said Monday.