RICHMOND — A central Virginia sheriff called on Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) this week to pardon convicted double murderer Jens Soering after reviewing the case and concluding that jurors reached the wrong verdict in the German national’s 1990 trial.
“Based on my training and experience, almost every piece of evidence raised by the prosecution is subject to inaccuracies, unreliabilities, and scientific contradictions,” Albemarle County Sheriff J.E. “Chip” Harding wrote this week in a 19-page letter to McAuliffe.
A German diplomat’s son, Soering is serving two life sentences for the 1985 slayings of his girlfriend’s parents in central Virginia. At the time of the murders, he and his girlfriend, Elizabeth Haysom, had been honors students at the University of Virginia.
Soering initially confessed to the crime but later said he was only trying to protect Haysom from the electric chair under the mistaken belief that he had diplomatic immunity because of his father’s position. He was convicted in a sensational 1990 trial that drew international media and gavel-to-gavel coverage on local cable television.
Haysom pleaded guilty to being an accessory before the fact, contending that she helped plan the murders but did not physically take part. She is serving a 90-year sentence at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women near Charlottesville.
Soering’s supporters have raised questions about the case for decades, noting that Soering got some details of the crime scene wrong and dismissing as “junk science” a bloody sock print that prosecutors said tied him to the case.
Over the years, as Soering gained attention for writing a string of books behind bars, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pressed for his release. At the urging of the German Embassy and Richmond’s Catholic bishop, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) agreed when he was governor in 2010 to transfer Soering to a German prison. But his Republican successor, Robert F. McDonnell, stopped the transfer because Soering could have been released after two years.
The push to release Soering picked up steam in the past year, with the release of a German documentary, “The Promise,” that suggested Haysom committed the murders, perhaps with help from a drug dealer or two. A new blood analysis performed last summer indicated that a man other than Soering was the source of the type O blood found at the home of Derek and Nancy Haysom.
“All I knew of the case was the little bit I had seen in the news over the past few years,” said Harding, who reviewed the case at the request of Soering’s attorney.
Harding said he spent more than 200 hours reading trial transcripts, lab reports, legal briefs, the full state forensics file and multiple books written about the case. He saw the uncut version of “The Promise” and interviewed Soering in prison. Ultimately he was convinced, by a number of factors, that the case did not add up.
Not everyone has been convinced, however.
Maj. Ricky Gardner of the Bedford County Sheriff’s Department, another original investigator, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. But as new questions arose last year, he said his faith in the verdict was firm.
“In recent years,” he said in an email last year, “some people have based their feelings of Soering’s innocents on what-ifs and vague hypothesis and not on the facts/evidence presented at his trial.”
In March, the Virginia Parole Board rejected Soering’s request for parole. But he has a pending pardon request before McAuliffe.
McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Harding’s letter.