For the past few months on and off, I’ve been researching the case of Jens Soering (or Söring, in the proper German spelling we’re going to need to get used to). He claims to be innocent of the 1985 double-murder he is in prison in Virginia for, but the more I looked into the case, the less I believed him. Previous blog posts on the case in English are here.
I decided to write an article in German for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on the case, since it’s a high-profile matter in Germany, and that very long piece was just published yesterday here (g):
At almost the exact same time, Soering and Elizabeth Haysom were freed from prison! The Virginia Parole Board issued the following statement:
PAROLE BOARD PRESS RELEASE, 25 NOVEMBER 2019:
“Today the Parole Board has made an unfavorable recommendation to the Governor for Jens Soering’s request for an absolute pardon. The years-long exhaustive investigation for a genuine search for the truth revealed that Jens Soering’s claims of innocence are without merit.
The Parole Board has determined that releasing Jens Soering and Elizabeth Haysom to their ICE deportation detainers is appropriate based on their youth at the time of the offenses, institutional adjustment and their length of incarceration.
They are both now in their mid-50’s and have served over 33 years for the horrific crimes that they committed. Their release and permanent expulsion from the United States is a tremendous cost benefit to the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Virginia and we have determined that their release does not pose a risk to public safety.”
Soering Guilty As Charged, a website which does what it says on the tin, has painstakingly documented Soering’s guilt, calls the release a “lesson in propaganda and moral corruption”. I can understand that point of view. Soering, as the principal in the crime — i.e., the person who actually stabbed Derek and Nancy Haysom to death — should have been kept in prison longer than Elizabeth Haysom, who was only an accomplice. Further, Haysom should have been released earlier because she accepted responsibility for her crime and showed genuine remorse, two things Söring hasn’t done.
Further, it’s clear one main reason Virginia released the pair is because of Söring’s public-relations campaign. The Parole Board wanted to simply be rid of this obstreperous prisoner. I can understand this motivation, but it introduces an illegitimate bias into the justice system in favor of intelligent, eloquent inmates who have the social skills to persuade outside supporters of their claims. There are inmates with much more persuasive innocence claims than Söring, but who don’t have his advantages.
In the end, though, I find the Parole Board’s decision acceptable. As I said in my posts on the case here, and in the German-language FAZ article, I believe in second chances. Thirty years in prison is severe punishment, the maximum allowed in most civilized countries. I don’t think Söring or Haysom pose any continuing danger to society. It may seem paradoxical, but murderers actually lower recidivism rates than many other kinds of prisoners; in particular, they’re extremely unlikely to commit another murder. Most murders are the result of unusual interpersonal situations which rarely crop up again, and this is certainly one of those cases.
In any event, Söring is coming back to Germany soon, if he’s not here already. He seems to enjoy the limelight, and I can imagine him making the rounds of German talk shows, condemning the American justice system and proclaiming his innocence. I can also imagine him getting softball interviews from German journalists, even though he remains a properly convicted double-murderer. If this happens, and I have little doubt it will, I will be there to patiently point out the hypocrisy and double standards of these journalists.