Sandy Hausman Series #2
(by WVTF Public Radio, April 2016)
The Promise: Why Did Soering Confess? (Link), April 25, 2016
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The Making of a Murderer – a documentary that aired on Netflix – cast doubt on the guilt of a man convicted of murder in Wisconsin and raised questions about law enforcement and the justice system there. Now, Virginia is coming under the microscope with a film premiering in June.
The Promise is a documentary about Jens Soering, a UVA honors student from Germany who, in 1990, was convicted of fatally stabbing his girlfriend’s parents in their Bedford County home.
“I never thought that Jens would murder my parents. I thought he might do a lot of things, but to kill somebody? I never believed he would do that to my parents. I still can hardly believe it. No matter what I said to him, no matter what I had written to him, he had a choice whether to kill my parents or not!”
At first, Jens confessed after 16 hours of interrogation over four days. German journalist and filmmaker Karin Steinberger says she has heard a recording of that confession.
She says, “You can hear that he is struggling, and you know in this confession there are mistakes – big mistakes.”
At a café in Munich, she described some of those errors. Jens said, for example, that Mrs. Haysom was wearing blue jeans, when – in fact – she wore a flowery housecoat. He recalled Mr. Haysom’s body in one position, when it was found in another, and the weapon he claimed to have used was not a double-bladed hunting knife, what detectives felt sure was employed.
Then there was the question of motive. Prosecutors surmised that Soering killed the Haysoms because they didn’t approve of his relationship with their daughter, but Karin Steinberger posits another possible motive – this one for Elizabeth, who admitted her mother had taken nude pictures of her as a child.
“I know it was a huge taboo in the 80’s, especially sexual abuse by the mother. I think even now it is a kind of taboo. These pictures were sealed off. They weren’t there at the court. This is incredible, because this makes a huge motive,” says Steinberger.
Bedford County Detective Ricky Gardner was aware of some possible sexual abuse. He says, “She acknowledged that her mother had touched her and fondled her and tried to have a romantic relationship with her.“ When asked if he thought it was significant, he says, No, no. It’s bizarre, but it doesn’t link back to the murder or anything.”
On the weekend when her parents were killed, Elizabeth and Jens had gone to Washington. He says she left him there, explaining she had to settle a debt with her drug dealer. She was, admittedly, using heroin, and filmmaker Steinberger claims her dealer was the son of a prominent family in Bedford.
He was never called to the witness stand , and when an expert on tire tracks testified that a bloody sock print was likely made by Jens, his lawyer didn’t call any real experts to dispute the claim. That was shocking to Gail Marshall, a former deputy attorney general who handled one of Soering’s appeals. “One of the jurors said that at the beginning the jury was divided six-six, and that the only reason he did decide to find Jens guilty was the sock print,” says Marshall.
In fact, Marshall says, you can’t tell much of anything from a sock print. All of this begs the question. Why did Soering confess? The film offers possible evidence that Soering made a promise to protect the real killer – Elizabeth. As the son of a German diplomat, he thought he’d have special legal protection – be sent back to Germany for trial. Instead, he’s spent more than half of his life in Virginia prisons.
Proving a False Confession: Soering Insists He's Innocent (Link), April 25, 2016
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Earlier this year, Governor Terry McAuliffe issued a pardon to Robert Davis – a man convicted of a brutal double murder after he falsely confessed to the crime. McAuliffe did not pardon another convicted killer, a former UVA honors student from Germany. Jens Soering insists he also gave a false confession, hoping to save the real killer from execution. The fatal love story of Jens Soering and Elizabeth Haysom will soon be told in a documentary called The Promise.
If you lived in Virginia in 1985, chances are you know the story.
Jens Soering, the son of a German diplomat was accused of killing his girlfriend’s parents in their Bedford County home.
“This is the photograph of the house. You can see the crime scene tape,” says Ricky Gardner, who was a rookie detective when the bodies were found. He’s convinced that Jens Soering was the killer, noting he and Elizabeth Haysom left town as soon as they became suspects. “An innocent person don’t run. So there’s another piece of the puzzle.”
The two traveled the world before being arrested in England where they were charged with check fraud. After being questioned for more than 16 hours over four days, Soering confessed to the crime. But today, he says that confession is proof of his innocence. “The way you can tell it’s a false confession is by checking what I said against the physical evidence at the crime scene,” says Soering.
The state of Virginia believes it’s dangerous to allow a radio reporter to record an interview at the Buckingham Correctional Center, so we spoke with Soering by phone. He recalled telling police that he acted alone when he killed Nancy and Derek Haysom. He says, “What the police found at the crime scene was all four blood groups – the two blood groups of the victims and two other blood groups, so that already tells you, at the very least, there were at least two perpetrators.
Now one of those blood types was his. He says, “I am blood group O, and that is the most common blood group.” But years later – when technology allowed for DNA testing, investigators found no sign of Soering in the Haysom home. Soering says, “The police tested 42 blood samples from the crime scene. Thirty-one of those were too small or too degraded to yield positive identification, but 11 of the blood samples could be tested, and all of those were from somebody else – definitely not me."
Police have never identified the fingerprint on a glass at the Haysom’s table or a strand of hair from the sink where traces of blood were found. Soering claimed to have used a butterfly knife to commit the crime, but that’s not what investigators thought when they studied the injuries inflicted. They believed the murder weapon was a hunting knife like the one found when a Bedford County Sheriff’s Deputy stopped two men a few days after the crime.
“He put one of them in the patrol car in the back and frisked one of them, and then he put the other one in the back of the patrol car and frisked the first one, and then he let them go. Later on, when he returned to the police station, he found this buck knife – this hunting knife – in the back of the patrol car."
Police did not question the two about the Haysom murders, but they would later be convicted of another murder in Roanoke using a knife. That fact alarmed journalist and filmmaker Karin Steinberger. I spoke with her at a Munich café.
Steinberger says, “You know killing with knives is not very usual. It is actually very hard to kill a person with a knife. This was never, ever mentioned in court.” In 1996, lawyers brought that discovery to the attention of a judge, who ruled it would not have changed the outcome of Soering’s trial. Karin Steinberger’s documentary challenges that point and suggests the existence of a missing FBI profile of the killer – a woman who was close to her victims. None of this has swayed Governor Terry McAuliffe, who had the chance to send Soering back to Germany but decided to keep him behind bars in Virginia.
Jens Soering a Prisoner of Politics? (Link), April 28, 2016
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It’s been more than 25 years since the Commonwealth of Virginia put a German citizen in prison for killing a Bedford County couple – his girlfriend’s parents. His story is told in a new documentary premiering in June at the Munich Film Festival. It portrays Virginia as a state where justice takes a backseat to politics.
Jens Soering received two life sentences for the brutal murder of Derek and Nancy Haysom in 1985. His lover, Elizabeth Haysom, got 90 years for serving as an accessory to the crime.
The case got new attention late last year, when Governor Terry McAuliffe announced he would not send Soering back to his homeland as requested by international treaty.
“I found out about it when my cellmate saw it on television, and told me about it, and I was shocked, ” Soering says.
Shocked because McAuliffe’s fellow Democrat, Tim Kaine, had signed off on a justice department request to return Soering to Germany. Steve Rosenfield is a Charlottesville attorney who represents Soering.
“Tim Kaine spent nine months investigating Jen Soering’s consideration for transfer to Germany," says Soering's lawyer Steve Rosenfield. " Governor McDonnel, who had done absolutely no work at all wrote to Eric Holder saying he rescinded Tim Kaine’s authorization.”
Republicans have used the Soering case for years to rally law-and-order voters. Delegate Rob Bell recently jumped on the issue as he began a campaign to become the state’s attorney general.
“He has used his connections through Germany. I have never met his family, but I gather they are very important people in a foreign country," Belle explains. "He’s used this law that none of us have ever heard of to try to get himself removed from Virginia, placed in Germany where there’s every reason to understand he’ll be promptly released.”
At the time of his trial, Soering was the son of a German diplomat, but former deputy attorney general Gail Marshall, who represented Soering on appeal, says her client was not rich, and his dad was not especially important.
“We should get the record straight on that," she says. "His father was a lifelong, mid-level government employee. He never had a high diplomatic post. When he was in the United States he was never posted to the embassy. He was posted to consulates in Atlanta and Detroit.”
Bell also contends Soering had a dream team of attorneys, but Soering says his first lawyer was hired by his father, came from Michigan, didn’t know Virginia law, and is no longer allowed to practice.
Soering disagrees. “My trial lawyer was disbarred for stealing money from me and from other people, and at his disciplinary hearing the bar association accepted his defense – that he had been suffering from a mental disability,” he says.
Soering does have powerful supporters in Germany. Angela Merkel reportedly asked President Obama to send him home, and many members of that country’s legislature have written to Governor McAuliffe on Soering’s behalf, but the governor isn’t sending Soering anywhere.
“He was properly tried," says McAuliffe. "He was convicted. He confessed to the crime. His girlfriend corroborated that. The crime was committed here in the Commonwealth, and he will stay here in the Commonwealth.”
What McAuliffe may not know is that two English psychiatrists said Elizabeth was borderline schizophrenic and a pathological liar – a diagnosis supported by at least one relative. Critics note Jens was questioned by police for 16 hours without an attorney, and the judge in his trial was a friend of the Haysom family.
As the documentary clearly shows, there were big problems with Soering’s confession and trial. This week, the governor left on a trade mission to the U.K. and Europe where he hopes to sell Virginia as a smart, progressive place to do business. Later this year, as the film is broadcast there, viewers will see a very different state.