TROY — Jens Soering’s new DNA-based bid for freedom is nonsense, says Elizabeth Haysom, his former girlfriend and the daughter of the couple they were convicted of murdering 31 years ago.
Haysom, who instigated the slayings of Derek and Nancy Haysom, has long maintained it was Soering who stabbed and cut the throats of the couple in their Bedford County home, Loose Chippings, in 1985.
Last month, in the latest chapter of an inexplicably savage crime that continues to draw international attention, Soering’s lawyers announced they have forensic evidence that proves someone else did the killing.
In an interview Thursday at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, Haysom told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that she felt she needed to respond.
“I am profoundly ashamed of my crime. It’s a horrific crime. I don’t like to talk about it. I don’t like being public entertainment. So I have been (mostly) silent,” she said.
But Haysom said she is frustrated by the efforts of Soering and his supporters over the decades claiming his innocence and muddying the waters.
“I feel like there’s this juggernaut of propaganda ... and things are getting further away from the truth,” said Haysom, 52, the same age as her mother when she died.
Haysom said she is loath to continue perpetrating “the whole he-said/she-said thing.” However, she complained, “I feel like he is playing the system. That’s bad for people who really are innocent.”
She said Soering murdered her parents and, despite the 1990 jury verdict convicting him, she feels he has yet to be properly confronted and exposed.
The “new” evidence cannot possibly prove his innocence, she argues. “He was there because he was angry, and because of me,” Haysom said.
There is no escaping, however, the he-said/she-said element at the bottom of things.
Soering, reached by telephone Thursday at the Buckingham Correctional Center, said Haysom is the liar. “Her only chance of making parole, you see, is to maintain she was not at the crime scene,” he contends.
Both have credibility issues. Soering either initially lied to investigators that he killed the Haysoms, or at his trial and ever since with his innocence claims.
And Haysom admitted Thursday that she lied when testifying at Soering’s trial about whether her mother had sexually abused her.
After years of reflection, she now says that the sexual abuse was the real motive for the savage murders. She also appeared to deny the sexual abuse at her sentencing hearing.
When questioned by former Bedford County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Updike during Soering’s trial about whether her mother had sexually abused her, as Soering contended, Haysom responded, “She didn’t sexually abuse me.”
Told about her admission, Soering said, “For the first time in 30 years ... Elizabeth Haysom has managed to make a true statement.”
“She is right. The motive for this crime is sexual abuse. And I’m amazed that she would admit that,” he said.
“This goes back to the he-said/she-said stuff, but it’s important,” he said.
Among other things, contends Soering, the abuse explains the rage that she — not he — had for her mother. The murders were so brutal, the killer clearly was acting in rage, he said.
When the Haysoms died, Soering, now 50, was 18 years old. Haysom was 20.
Both were University of Virginia scholarship students — brilliant, gifted young people from privileged, well-to-do families. Soering was the son of a German diplomat and Haysom the daughter of a sophisticated, world-traveled, retired executive.
The two had been dating for a few months when on a weekend in March 1985, they drove a rented car to Washington, D.C., to establish an alibi.
The slightly built Soering, the jury concluded, drove the car back to the Haysoms’ home, stabbed them to death and then drove back to Washington.
Police believe the killer sat at the dining room table with the victims, both of whom had blood-alcohol levels more than twice the legal limit for driving.
They were stabbed repeatedly, and their throats were cut. The scene, discovered days later, was described by one investigator as a “slaughterhouse.”
Haysom and Soering were not initial suspects, but they fled to the Far East and Europe when police started asking questions in October 1985.
They were arrested in London in April 1986 for writing bad checks. Both confessed to the killings, but Haysom later said the killer was Soering. She agreed to plead guilty and testify against Soering.
Soering said he committed the murders in confessions that got some of the details wrong. One of the investigators to whom he confessed was Ricky Gardner, now a major with the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office. Gardner did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Soering said he mistakenly thought he had some measure of diplomatic immunity because of his father’s position and said he took the blame to spare Haysom from the electric chair.
He said that after he realized he, too, was facing the death penalty, he reverted to what he said was the truth: that he did not kill the Haysoms.
“I have said for 30 years that the confession I gave to Ricky Gardner on June 8, 1986, was a false confession,” he said Thursday. “I promised to do 10 years in a juvenile prison, not to go to the electric chair for her,” he said.
Soering fought extradition but was returned to the U.S. from Britain after authorities agreed not to seek the death penalty.
His lawyer said the commonwealth had the roles reversed — it was Haysom who drove from Washington to her parents’ home and then back the night of the murders. But after a televised, three-week jury trial in 1990, he was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive life terms.
Evidence against Soering at the trial included his confession and type O blood found at the scene — the same type as Soering’s but not the three Haysoms.
Soering’s case has risen to public attention from time to time over the decades since he was imprisoned.
He is a prolific writer and has gained many supporters, among them former Virginia Deputy Attorney General Gail S. Marshall, who represented Soering on appeal and has appeared on his behalf at parole hearings. Supporters have a website for him: www.jenssoering.com.
Chuck Reid, a former investigator with the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office who worked on the murders for six months before leaving the department for unrelated reasons, said he has long had reservations about the case.
Among them, he said, is that the wounds suffered by the Haysoms were severe.
“I can’t see where he would have generated enough hate to do that kind of damage,” Reid said of Soering.
Wes Nance, the current Bedford County commonwealth’s attorney, said he did not want to comment on a case that occurred 25 years before he took office.
“What I am confident in, however, is the integrity and professionalism of the Bedford County Sheriff’s Department, Major Ricky Gardner, then-prosecutor Jim Updike Jr., and the jury system,” he wrote in an email.
In 2010, Soering’s case generated controversy when then-Gov. Tim Kaine, as he was leaving office, quietly agreed to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to approve Soering’s transfer to a German prison. The proposed arrangement fell through when Bob McDonnell was sworn in as governor.
A German documentary film about the case, “The Promise,” was completed recently and raises questions about Soering’s guilt, and Soering is working on a book with Bill Sizemore, a former longtime reporter for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk.
The most recent development began a couple of months ago, Soering said.
In 1985, Virginia’s forensic science bureau reported the blood-typing results on evidence from the scene.
Five of the blood stains recovered were type O. Soering has type O blood, but the two victims and their daughter did not.
Then in 2009, as part of a massive post-conviction DNA testing program aimed at identifying wrongly convicted people, the Virginia Department of Forensic Science looked at more than 40 pieces of biological evidence saved by an examiner from the murder scene — most of it so degraded that DNA profiles were not obtained.
But profiles were identified on 11 items. Soering and Elizabeth Haysom’s DNA were excluded. The lab reported that the genetic profiles of the victims were not available for comparison, and apparently the results were not run through the state or national DNA databanks to see if there might be a cold hit. The Department of Forensic Science will not comment.
Soering cited the 2009 DNA results in his bid for a pardon from then-Gov. McDonnell. The absence of DNA, however, does not necessarily prove innocence, and the 2011 petition was turned down.
Soering said that a couple of months ago, he received the 1985 serology results, which he long ago had shipped to Germany along with other items from his case file.
On July 26, Soering said he and his lawyer, Steven D. Rosenfield of Charlottesville, were talking on the phone. They suddenly realized that two of the type O stains were among the 11 pieces of evidence for which DNA profiles were obtained. (No results were obtained in the three other type O stains.)
That meant, they said, the type O blood was not Soering’s.
Rosenfield announced the findings at a news conference in Charlottesville last month and said they were being included in a petition for an absolute pardon from Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
According to Soering’s trial transcript, Updike, the prosecutor, argued to the jury: “You have got type O blood there, his blood type, his blood type. It’s not Nancy’s, it’s not Derek’s. Nancy’s got Type AB, Derek got type A. It’s not Elizabeth Haysom, Elizabeth’s got type B. Now where did that type O blood come from?”
If not from Soering, “where else could it come from?” Updike asked.
Rosenfield said last week that “we buy into that theory — the killer left his blood at the scene.” And the DNA now proves the killer was not Soering, he said.
Soering said Thursday that, “You could argue I was there with another man whom I have been protecting for 31 years and this other man got injured and somehow I decided to confess to Ricky Gardner to protect this man and to pretend I was the one who was injured even though it was my male accomplice. That’s the only way to make me guilty now.”
Rosenfield obtained an opinion from Kenneth H. Brasfield, a doctor of pharmacy who reviewed the 1985 and 2009 forensic lab reports. His two-page letter concluded that, “Jens Soering has been eliminated as the type O contributor.”
However, Betty Layne DesPortes, a Richmond criminal defense lawyer and president-elect of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, also reviewed the 1985 and 2009 reports and disagrees.
The 2009 DNA report concluded that Soering was eliminated as the contributor of the DNA profile developed from items that contained type O blood, she said. But the report does not and cannot conclude that the DNA profile developed came from the type O blood, DesPortes said.
“The evidence sample was swabbed and it may have contained not only the type O blood but other sources of DNA, such as skin cells,” she said.
DesPortes said that without knowing whose DNA profile was present, more needs to be known to determine the significance of the test results.
She said the same DNA profile was “developed” from eight items, six of which were earlier found to contain type A blood, the male victim’s blood type, and the two other items were earlier found to contain type O blood.
Since the same DNA profile was found in items containing two different types of blood, it further suggests the DNA profile cited by Soering and Rosenfield was not from the blood itself but from other sources, perhaps from Derek Haysom, whose profile was not known, DesPortes said.
She said it appears the “probative” value of the DNA results in this case is limited by a number of open questions.
“On their face, given the circumstances of collection and storage, it does not appear that they independently support an actual innocence claim,” DesPortes said.
The motive for the savage crimes has been said to include hatred and revenge and the Haysoms’ alleged disapproval of Soering as a suitor.
Asked Thursday why she wanted her parents dead, Haysom paused and said she has thought a great deal about that over the decades. “My mother sexually abused me for eight years,” she said.
She said her mother also took nude photos of her up to the summer she went off to the University of Virginia, where she met Soering. “I felt trapped. I felt trapped. ... It was a horrid, horrid, ugly secret,” she said.
Haysom said she lied about the sexual abuse at Soering’s trial because she said she was not about to talk about it in such a public forum.
It was a secret, however, that she shared with Soering. She said he was very angry for her and that she was very grateful for his support and empathy.
She said they talked about killing her parents and there was a vague, slipshod plan that gained a momentum of its own. “When Jens went to the house, it was an option, but it wasn’t a set-done deal,” she said of the killings.
“My mother had this power over me. I could never have laid a hand on her. That’s why I needed Jens to do it. It was horrid,” she said.
“Am I to blame for the crime? Absolutely.”
If a third person was involved — as Soering now says — she asked why did she not name him instead of blaming Soering, whom she loved.
It also would mean she manipulated a man other than Soering into killing her parents and then manipulated Soering into taking the blame.
Haysom said Thursday that she hopes Soering is repatriated to Germany.
“I hate my crime, and I hate (that I got) Jens involved. I would love to be able to say he wasn’t involved,” she said. “I can’t imagine the cruelty of A), ruining his life and B), putting him in prison and he was innocent.”
Haysom need not stick to her story out of fear she could be prosecuted for the slayings. Nance wrote in an email that, “If one attempted to charge her again, the legal principle of double jeopardy would prevent such a development from occurring.”
Soering, however, contends she is lying so she can win parole. Because the crimes occurred before Jan. 1, 1995, the two are eligible for parole even though they both have been turned down repeatedly.
Haysom has another 16 years to serve before she must be released at age 68.
“If she now admits the truth, that means she’s basically admitting to keeping an innocent man in prison for over 30 years. That’s just going to destroy any chance of early release for her,” Soering asserted. “I’m kind of shocked that she would tell the truth, but she did and I’m grateful for it.”
He said the sexual abuse should have been brought out in court. “It’s the reason why she did this terrible thing. It doesn’t make it OK, but it makes it understandable.”
“It’s a tragedy,” Soering said of the abuse and the slayings. But, he said, “It’s also a tragedy for me because I got dragged into all this.”