Jens Söring

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Jens Söring
Jens Soering.jpg
Born (1966-08-01) 1 August 1966 (age 53)
Criminal statusIncarcerated at Buckingham Correctional Center in Virginia
Conviction(s)First degree murder
Criminal penaltyLife imprisonment

Jens Söring, usually rendered in English as Jens Soering, (born 1 August 1966 in Bangkok, Thailand) is a German citizen who in 1990 was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in the United States.

Söring was convicted of killing the parents of his then-girlfriend Elizabeth Haysom in the unincorporated hamlet of Boosboro, Bedford County, Virginia with her help in March 1985. After fleeing the United States in October 1985, he and Haysom were arrested in London in April 1986. Söring's fight against extradition led to the landmark judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Soering v United Kingdom that establishes that extradition to the United States is illegal if the accused faces the death penalty. Söring was extradited after the authorities in Bedford County gave assurances that they would not seek the death penalty.

After initially confessing to the crime, he pleaded not guilty but was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. A number of irregularities during the investigation and trial have been alleged in the following years, resulting in claims that the evidence cited in the original investigation is insufficient to sustain a conviction. As of 2019, fourteen parole requests have been denied and numerous petitions for a gubernatorial pardon have not been granted.

During his incarceration, Söring converted from Buddhism to Roman Catholicism and wrote multiple books about his life in prison and his religious beliefs. His 2007 book The Convict Christ was awarded first prize by the Catholic Press Association of North America in the category, "Social Concerns".

Early life and education[edit]

Jens Söring was born on 1 August 1966 in Bangkok as the son of a German diplomat, Klaus Söring.[1][2] He moved to the United States in 1977 and graduated from The Lovett School in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1984.[3][4] He then attended the University of Virginia where he entered into a relationship with fellow student Elizabeth Haysom.[4]

Crimes, confessions and extradition[edit]

In March 1985, when Söring was 18 and Haysom was 20, Haysom's parents, Derek (born 1913) and Nancy Haysom (born 1931), were murdered in their home in the then unincorporated hamlet of Boonsboro, in Bedford County, Virginia.[5] Six months after the murders, with investigators closing in on the couple, Söring and Haysom fled to England where they lived under assumed names.[6][7][8]

On 30 April 1986, Söring and Haysom were arrested for fraud after writing over $5,000 ($11,400 today) in fake checks and using false papers and lying to the police in London, England.[9][10] Under questioning by British, American, West German and Virginia authorities, Söring confessed to the double murder several times to several authorities, including medical persons.[7]

Haysom waived extradition.[11] Söring fought extradition on the basis that the capital punishment and especially the exposure to the so-called death row phenomenon, i.e. the emotional distress felt by prisoners on death row constitute inhuman or degrading treatment as forbidden by Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. On 7 July 1989, the European Court of Human Rights agreed with this assessment and ruled in Soering v United Kingdom that extradition to countries where the accused faces the death row phenomenon is unlawful.[12] After this decision, the authorities in Bedford County agreed not to pursue the death penalty and Söring was extradited to the United States on 12 January 1990.[9]

Trial and conviction[edit]

Haysom pleaded guilty and then testified against Söring.[13] At trial, Haysom testified that Söring committed the murders and that she was an accessory to the crime.[13][14][15][16]

Söring was tried for two counts of first degree murder in 1990. According to the prosecution, Söring committed the murders and Haysom was an accessory before the fact. Söring pleaded not guilty, stating he made a false confession to protect Haysom, as he assumed he would have diplomatic immunity.

Söring was sentenced to two consecutive life terms.[17] Haysom was sentenced to 90 years imprisonment (one 45-year sentence for each murder, to be served consecutively).[18][19] She has a mandatory release date in 2032 when she will be 68 years old.[10]

Alleged irregularities[edit]

Since the trial, Söring has raised several issues regarding his trial: Richard Neaton, Söring's defense attorney, was subsequently disciplined and eventually disbarred for reasons unrelated to Söring's case,[20] and admitted to having had a drug problem while representing Söring;[21] moreover, the judge, William M. Sweeney, knew Nancy Haysom's brother (Elizabeth's uncle) and had presided over Elizabeth's court proceeding.[22] Ed Sulzbach, a FBI profiler who according to some familiar with the case was asked to consult, concluded that the crime had been committed by a female who knew the Haysoms, settling on Elizabeth as the likely killer.[23][24] The detective working on the case, Ricky Gardner, denied that a profile had been created by Sulzbach.[23] No report was entered into evidence at Söring's trial.[25]

A blood-smeared sock print was introduced as main evidence against Söring. The prosecution's expert witness, Robert Hallett, who was not an expert on footprints, claimed that he was able to match it perfectly to Söring.[26] An FBI agent interviewed by WVTF in 2018 dismissed the witnesses' methods as a "magic trick" and noted that Sulzbach had matched the sock to a female in his report.[23]

In 2009, the 42 pieces of DNA evidence from the crime scene were tested (technology was previously not sufficiently advanced).[27] Of the 42, 31 were either too small or degraded to yield results. The 11 samples successfully tested excluded both Söring and Elizabeth Haysom.[25]

Further investigations and parole requests[edit]

Jens Söring has been eligible for parole since 2003. His twelfth parole request was denied at the beginning of 2017.[28] A petition for an absolute pardon was filed on 22 August 2016.[29]

Chuck Reid, one of the original investigators of the Haysom murders, has occasionally agreed to be interviewed about the case. His participation in the 2016 documentary The Promise led him to take his long-standing doubts about the outcome more seriously.[30]

An expert on police interrogations and confessions, Dr. Andrew Griffiths, spent four months reviewing all statements Söring made to police and prosecutors after he and Haysom were caught in London a year after the murders, and concluded British and American investigators "violated a host of British laws," including holding Söring incommunicado and denying him access to his solicitor; however, this conclusion is unrelated to and separate from Söring's conviction in the United States.[31]

On 3 May 2017, Albemarle County Sheriff J. E. "Chip" Harding released a 19-page report on a months-long investigation he had conducted on this case. He concluded that Jens Söring is innocent and asked Governor McAuliffe to pardon him.[32][33]

On 27 September 2017, Albemarle County Sheriff J.E. "Chip" Harding held a press conference on Jens Söring's case. Sheriff Harding had been investigating this case for a long time and had previously called on the governor to pardon Söring. In a supplement letter to Governor McAuliffe he stated that he was "convinced Mr. Söring did not kill Derek and Nancy Haysom and was not present at the scene when the murders took place." Retired Detective Sergeant Richard L. Hudson, Jr, who continues to assist Sheriff Harding in the investigation, also presented his conclusions. In his letter to the Governor, Hudson wrote "that the evidence appears to lead to a conclusion that Mr. Söring is innocent of murdering the Haysoms." Nationally recognized Serology and DNA expert, J. Thomas McClintock, Ph.D., who had reviewed the forensic files but had never worked on the Haysom case, presented his findings during the press conference. These findings were in accordance with the findings of Moses Schanfield Ph.D., a professor of forensic science and expert witness, who had reviewed the forensic files earlier in 2017 but had never worked on the Haysom case, and, at the time, concluded that "Söring must be excluded as the donor of unidentified blood stains found at the scene. Rather, the DNA evidence supports the conclusion that two unknown men left blood at the scene." This conclusion is different from other conclusions made by Söring and his team that set forth the theory that Elizabeth Haysom was at the scene. Prof. Schanfield wrote a supplement to his initial report, which was also presented to the press in his absence. This supplement contained additional observations which significantly strengthen his earlier opinions.[34][35][36][37][38]

On October 10, 2017, Germany's ambassador Dr. Peter Wittig and its former president Christian Wulff, amongst Söring's Counsel Steven Rosenfield and others, attended Söring's 13th parole hearing. Following this hearing, Wittig told the assembled media "We are deeply convinced of the innocence of Jens Söring." [39]

On October 27, 2017, a further press conference was held in the Söring case. It was hosted by Gail Starling Marshall, former Deputy Attorney General of Virginia, who has been supporting Söring for more than 20 years and believes he is innocent. Speakers included Dr Moses Schanfield, a leading expert in DNA and serology and Dr Andrew Griffiths, an international expert in police interrogation techniques. During the press conference, Söring's counsel, Steven Rosenfield, announced that the University of Richmond School of Law's Institute for Actual Innocence supports Söring's pardon petition and that its founder and director, Prof. Mary Kelly Tate had now written a letter to the Governor of Virginia to ask that he grant Söring a pardon. Professor Tate said in an interview "I think the new DNA evidence is quite, quite compelling, and I think it's clear that Jens Söring would not be convicted today. I believe it's appropriate for him to get an absolute pardon or a conditional pardon." Dr Griffiths, who had spent 5 months reviewing the tapes and written protocols of the interrogations of Söring in 1986, confirmed that he believed Söring's confession to be unreliable. He strongly criticised Bedford County Sheriff's Office investigator Ricky Gardner's conduct at the time. Dr Schanfield presented a memorandum issued by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science which states that a particular blood stain found at the crime scene came from a single contributor and was not a mixture. This memorandum also confirms that Söring was eliminated as contributor of this stain.[40][41][42]

In the 2016 documentary Killing for Love, as well as in other interviews[which?], Söring admits that there is presently no DNA evidence that exonerates him, though he believes that it contributes to reasonable doubt.[citation needed]

Life in prison and writings[edit]

Söring is serving his sentence at the Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn, Virginia. While in prison, he converted from Buddhism to Roman Catholicism.[43] Söring has published several books and articles while incarcerated. In 2007, his book The Convict Christ was awarded first prize by the Catholic Press Association of North America in the category, "Social Concerns."[44]


A full-length documentary film about the case, Killing for Love (German: Das Versprechen or The Promise), by Marcus Vetter and Karin Steinberger, premiered at the Munich International Film Festival and was released theatrically in October 2016. It had its North American premiere on 5 November 2016 at the Virginia Film Festival. In the U.K., the film was shown in March 2017 on BBC Four as part of the documentary strand Storyville. In the Netherlands, public broadcaster NPO2 showed the film in two parts in its documentary series 2Doc in April 2017.

In March 2017, Killing for Love won the "Öngören" Award for Democracy and Human Rights at the "Filmfest Türkei Deutschland" in Nuremberg.[46]

The film recently received a nomination for best German documentary at the SWR Documentary Film Festival 2017.[47][48]

It is now available as a video on demand[49] and on DVD.[50][51] A podcast based on this tragic story, inspired by the documentary Killing for Love (in German, Das Versprechen) was reproduced and publicized in the United States by noted business tycoon AMC Theaters, in colloboration with Amanda Knox's true crime podcast, The Truth About True Crime.[52][53]


  1. ^ Heller, Nathan (2015-11-02). "A College Romance That Led to Murder". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2018-05-15.
  2. ^ Davey, Monica. "Soering trial full of culture shocks". The Roanoke Times. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  3. ^ Mackenzie, Christina (7 July 1989). "West German Wins Fight Against Extradition to the United States". Associated Press News Archive. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  4. ^ a b Baker, Donald P. (24 August 1987). "Pair Accused In Murders Shared Paths". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  5. ^ Humphry, Keith (28 February 2011). "Jens Soering: His life behind bars". WDBJ. Archived from the original on 15 June 2011. Retrieved 3 September 2015. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  6. ^ "For a convicted double murderer long on famous supporters, basic detective work could be key".
  7. ^ a b "After Conviction In Va., Soering Awaits Sentence". Philadelphia Media Network. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved 3 September 2015. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  8. ^ Baker, Donald P. (10 December 1996). "Diplomat's Son Back In Court". The Washington Post. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  9. ^ a b Hall, John (12 January 1990). "Former Virginia student extradited on murder charges". UPI. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  10. ^ a b Sizemore, Bill (18 February 2007). "No hope for Jens Soering (Part 2)". The Virginian-Pilot. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  11. ^ Johnson, Christine M. (10 January 1990). "Soering to be extradited on murder charges". UPI. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  12. ^ "CASE OF SOERING v. THE UNITED KINGDOM". European Court of Human Rights. July 7, 1989. Retrieved 2019-07-15.
  13. ^ a b Reed, David (25 June 1990). "Murder Case Takes on Air of Shakespeare". Associated Press News Archive. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  14. ^ "Was Accessory in Murders of Parents, Heiress Admits". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  15. ^ "Haysom Says Boyfriend Killed Parents". The Washington Post. 14 June 1990. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  16. ^ "Girlfriend Describes Plot With Lover To Kill Parents". Philadelphia Media Network. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  17. ^ Turyn, Noreen (25 June 2014). "Elizabeth Haysom Denied Parole". WSET. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  18. ^ Beveridge, Dirk (9 October 1987). "Daughter Is Sentenced To 90 Years For Role In Va. Slaying of Parents". The Washington Post. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  19. ^ "Soering's ex says he is guilty; new letter sent to governor". The Daily Progress. 22 March 2011. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  20. ^ "FINRA Bar of Rep Who Failed To Disclose Disbarment As Attorney Upheld". Retrieved 2018-05-15.
  21. ^ Doss, Noreen Turyn & Catherine. "Experts advocates for Jens Soering's innocence in 1985 Haysom murders". WSET. Retrieved 2018-05-15.
  22. ^ Advance, Darrell Laurant Special to The News &. "Longtime Bedford County Judge William W. Sweeney presided over city annexation case, Soering trial". Retrieved 2018-05-15.
  23. ^ a b c Hausman, Sandy (April 11, 2018). "Retired FBI Agent Says Soering Should Be Freed". WVTF. Retrieved 2018-05-15.
  24. ^ Hausman, Sandy (May 17, 2018). "Northam Puts Soering Pardon In Parole Board's Hands". Retrieved 2019-07-18.
  25. ^ a b "In 1985, a gruesome double murder rocked the US. What if the wrong man was convicted?". The New Zealand Herald. 2017-03-16. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 2019-07-10.
  26. ^ Hausman, Sandy (3 May 2017). "Sheriff Advocates for Jens Soering's Innocence in New Letter". WVTF. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  27. ^ Pitzke, Marc (28 February 2012). "Deutscher in US-Haft: 'Ich sehne mich nach dem ewigen deutschen Nörgeln'". Der Spiegel (in German).
  28. ^ Vozzella, Laura (31 March 2017). "No parole for Jens Soering, German diplomat's son convicted in 1985 double murder in Virginia". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  29. ^ Vozzella, Laura (24 August 2016). "Jens Soering says new blood analysis proves his innocence in 31-year-old case". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  30. ^ Vozzella, Laura (9 March 2017). "In 1985, a gruesome double murder rocked Virginia. Was the wrong man convicted?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  31. ^ "Jens Soering - Absolute pardon: Soering petitions another governor". Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  32. ^ Harding, J.E. "Chip" (2 May 2017). "Letter to the Honorable Terence M. McAuliffe" (PDF). Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  33. ^ Vozzella, Laura (3 May 2017). "Va. sheriff calls on McAuliffe to free Jens Soering". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  34. ^ BERG, LAUREN. "Ex-Charlottesville detective, DNA expert join Jens Soering's bid for freedom". Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  35. ^ "Pressure to pardon: New experts weigh in on Soering case". 28 September 2017. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  36. ^ Turyn, Noreen. "Officials: Science and other evidence shows Jens Soering is innocent". Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  37. ^ BERG, LAUREN. "Ex-detective, DNA expert join Soering's bid for freedom". Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  38. ^ Hausman, Sandy. "New Calls For Pardon In Soering Case". Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  39. ^ "German ambassador, former president seek release of convicted killer Jens Soering". 10 October 2017. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  40. ^ Vozzella, Laura (27 October 2017). "For German diplomat's son jailed in 1985 double murder, a powerful new advocate". Retrieved 30 October 2017 – via
  41. ^ Early, John. "Institute for Actual Innocence Believes Soering Not Guilty of Haysom Murders". Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  42. ^ BERG, LAUREN. "Interrogation expert: Soering confession 'unreliable'". Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  43. ^ Soering, Jens (2006). The Convict Christ: What the Gospel Says About Criminal Justice. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books. ISBN 1-57075-648-1.
  44. ^ "Jens Soering". Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  45. ^ Wagner, Peter; Healy, Stephen (30 April 2005). "An Expensive Way to Make Bad People Worse: An Essay on Prison reform from an Insider's Perspective, book review". Prison Policy Initiative. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  46. ^ "The Promise". Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  47. ^ "Das Versprechen". SWR Doku Festival (in German). Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  48. ^ "Deutscher Dokumentarfilmpreis: Zwölf Produktionen nominiert". SWR Doku Festival (in German). Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  49. ^ "Das Versprechen auf Video on Demand". Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  50. ^ "Das Versprechen - Erste Liebe lebenslänglich". Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  51. ^ "Killing for Love - Watch the film". Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  52. ^
  53. ^

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