A retired Charlottesville detective and a second DNA expert have joined Jens Soering’s corner as he fights for a pardon from the governor.
Soering, the German national convicted of killing his former girlfriend’s parents when he and Elizabeth Haysom were students at the University of Virginia, has maintained his innocence since his conviction in 1990. He has been denied parole 12 times, and he is up for a 13th parole hearing on Oct. 10.
On March 30, 1985, Derek and Nancy Haysom were killed in their Bedford County home. They were found with dozens of stab wounds, and their throats were cut from ear to ear. Their daughter, 20 at the time, eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder as an accessory before the fact.
Haysom is currently serving a 90-year sentence in prison, but she will receive mandatory parole in 2032, when she is 68 years old.
In August 2016, local attorney Steven Rosenfield put together a petition for pardon on Soering’s behalf, and it gained the support of Albemarle County Sheriff J.E. “Chip” Harding. Using new DNA testing and after consulting with two separate DNA experts, Rosenfield asserts that the case against Soering was based on faulty science.
In 1985, an analysis was done on blood found at the crime scene. Five bloodstains were found to be type O — the same type as Soering. Prosecutor Jim Updike explained the finding by telling the jury that Soering must have been injured in a knife fight at the scene.
In 2009, as part of a post-conviction review, new DNA testing was done on some of the items collected at the crime scene, Rosenfield said. Of the 43 items with blood samples, just 11 were stable enough to test.
“Of those 11 items, two were found with type O blood, and a DNA scientist reported that Jens Soering was eliminated as a contributor of that blood,” Rosenfield said.
Two DNA experts have concluded that Soering must be excluded as a contributor of biological material at the scene. The new findings of J. Thomas McClintock align with those of Moses Schanfield, who was previously consulted by Rosenfield. The experts also identified blood from two unknown men.
And even though Soering initially confessed to the crime after he was arrested in London, he eventually recanted his statement and said he lied to protect Elizabeth. Though his confession was still used against him in court, investigators on Wednesday said the details he provided about the crime don’t make sense when paired with the physical evidence.
This month, retired Charlottesville Det. Sgt. Richard L. Hudson Jr. submitted a letter of support on behalf of Soering after he spent more than 250 hours looking through police reports and documents, crime scene photos, forensic reports and transcripts of court proceedings. He has concluded that Soering would not have been convicted if he were tried today.
“I believe that Jens Soering made some huge errors in judgment,” Hudson wrote. “The false confessions and the run to Europe to try to cover for Elizabeth Haysom are but two. I believe those decisions were made while Soering was being manipulated by Elizabeth Haysom.”
“I have found no evidence to suggest Jens Soering was present at Loose Chippings (the ‘name’ given by the Haysoms to their house) in Bedford County, Va., when Derek and Nancy Haysom were brutally murdered,” he wrote.
In 1985, Hudson was working at the Charlottesville Police Department when the crime occurred. It wasn’t until this year, when Harding asked him to look at the case from a fresh perspective, that he really dove into the details.
Hudson then interviewed Soering, describing his statements as believable. Haysom declined to be interviewed.
“I interviewed him early on from the perspective that he’d made a confession — he was a co-conspirator who made a confession,” said Hudson. “Why should that not be true?”
“What he said made sense,” he said.
Hudson also stressed that there is no biological or physical evidence to associate Soering with the crime scene, such as blood from an injury.
“If that was the case, we would think it was possible that his genetic material would be there,” Hudson said. “It doesn’t have to be, but there was a ton of genetic evidence there and his was not recovered.”
As an impartial investigator for the petition for pardon, Hudson said he came into the case purely to figure out what happened. He has since ended with more questions than answers.
“At the end of the day, I do not believe he would be convicted if he was tried again,” Hudson said. “I don’t think he’d be charged.”
“I think he should be released,” he added. “The evidence they used to convict him was wrong.”
One of the biggest questions for Hudson is the as-yet-unidentified blood samples collected from the crime scene.
“That’s the elephant in the room,” Hudson said. “Who were those men? … I think they’re a danger. Who knows where they might be. They could be in Charlottesville or Bedford or anywhere.”
In a second letter to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Harding also expressed concern about the two men, as well as Bedford County Commonwealth’s Attorney Wes Nance’s disinclination to reopen the investigation.
“Nothing we want to do in the future regarding the finding of the two unknown men should interfere with your decision making regarding Soering, because our work may take a long time and because we are convinced that Soering did not kill the Haysoms and was not present at the time of the murders,” Harding wrote.
A spokeswoman for McAuliffe’s office said Soering’s petition is currently in the review process, but she would not go into detail. She said the office would make an announcement when a decision is made.
Harding said McAuliffe’s office is currently backed up with cases and said he was told a review of Soering’s case would probably begin Sept. 1, but he was not given a projected date of completion.
Calls to the Bedford County commonwealth’s attorney’s and sheriff’s offices were not immediately returned.