I’ve been getting lots of inquiries about who I am and why I have written so extensively about the Jens Söring case. So here’s a FAQ.
1. Why do you hate Jens Söring?
I don’t. I’ve never met Söring, and I doubt I ever will. He strikes me as intelligent and articulate, with many positive characteristics. But he also killed two people in cold blood, and has lied about it since 1990. And his lies have damaged the reputations of many other people. He should accept responsibility for what he has done, stop maligning others, and begin his new life in freedom on the basis of honesty and reconciliation.
2. What do you think about the fact that he’s been released from prison?
I am delighted that Söring and Haysom have been released from prison. I have always opposed the death penalty, in public and private, and also life imprisonment without parole. I believe prisoners who have made genuine efforts at rehabilitation and who present no further danger should be released. Söring and Haysom fit this description. I believe in retribution for serious violent crimes, so I think their long prison sentences were just. But they have paid their debt to society, as the saying goes, and deserve a second chance. I wish them both all the best.
3. How did you get interested in this case?
I don’t know anyone involved in the case, and have zero personal connection to it. The way I got interested was somewhat roundabout. For some light reading, I picked up Stephen King’s book about the Kennedy assassination, 11/22/1963. I’ve long been a mild Kennedy assassination buff. King describes how he became convinced that the Warren Commission was right, and that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed President Kennedy. As a major factor he cited the American investigative journalist Gerald Posner’s book Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK. The book is a masterpiece of investigative journalism, highly recommended. Case Closed takes on literally every conspiracy theory which has ever been produced regarding the JFK assassination, and proves why they are all wrong. As a lawyer, I love a good debate and a good debunking, and Case Closed is a magisterial, once-and-for-all debunking. An argument which is as beautiful in its way as a Gothic cathedral.
I am fascinated by understanding how proof and evidence and logical inference work. Evaluating the strength and weakness of arguments is one of the things that lawyers are good at, and I like to think I’m good at it. I tried to think of other cases in which someone had made claims of conspiracy and injustice which I thought might also be due for a debunking. I remembered hearing and reading a great deal about the case of Jens Söring. So I began researching the case in my free time. I soon found the website Soering Guilty as Charged. The website is well-written and convincing. Further, it immediately became apparent to me that the author was very well-informed about the case. Every claim on that website which I checked turned out to be accurate, and the author obviously had access to some very hard-to-find documents. I decided to reach out to the author and we got in touch. It became clear the author knew exactly what he was talking about, and was loads of fun to correspond with as well.
As I researched the case further I became increasingly convinced Söring was guilty and fairly tried. I was dismayed by how many people had swallowed flimsy arguments and fallacious reasoning to try to portray him as innocent. Further, I live in Germany and followed the case in the German press. The Söring case was frequently cited as a serious injustice. Leading German journalists and even politicians announced their belief that Söring was innocent and/or that he had not received a fair trial. The picture they presented was of a kangaroo court in which a studious, shy, intelligent German student had been intimidated into giving false confessions by unscrupulous police officers, then subjected to an unfair trial before a biased judge and an ignorant jury, during which he was railroaded by an ambitious prosecutor and represented by ineffectual lawyers. German commentators often pivoted from the Söring case to wider critiques of the American criminal justice system.
In particular, I was annoyed that Söring and his supporters consistently failed to mention that most of these theories had already been put before at least four separate state and federal appeals courts, and that Söring had lost each time. Almost all of Söring’s arguments have been heard by experienced appeals judges and resoundingly rejected. But Söring and his supporters treat all of this as a mere footnote. This, in my view, reflects insulting disrespect for the American criminal justice system. I doubt any German reporter would casually toss aside the opinions of senior appeals judges in a German case (and they shouldn’t, German courts are also highly professional and effective). But that’s exactly what they were doing when they discussed the Söring case. By the way, I am not arguing that appeals court judges are perfect. In fact, I was part of a legal team which won not just one, but two separate cases before the United States Supreme Court by arguing that appeals court judges got a major issue of law wrong. But generally, appeals court judges get things right. And they got things right in the Söring case.
I don’t believe the American criminal justice system is perfect. In fact, I have criticized its shortcomings in print and in public on innumerable occasions, and will continue to do so. But the image Söring’s supporters paint is a gross caricature. The American criminal justice system needs reform (as does the German system), and it makes mistakes, as all criminal justice systems do. But Söring’s case was not one of them.
4. The first big story you published in German for the FAZ came out on November 25th, the same day Söring was released from prison. Was that a coincidence?
Yes. My piece for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) was not time-sensitive, so it went through leisurely editing and fact-checking with no specific release date. As it happened, it was published on exactly the day the surprise announcement of Söring’s release came.
5. Why did you continue writing about the case?
Actually, I had no intention of continuing to write about the case. I thought my first piece for the FAZ was enough to put a counterbalancing voice out there to challenge the narrative of Söring’s innocence. I thought: “My work here is done.” But then the FAZ received two very long letters to the editor, one from Sheriff Chip Harding, one of Söring’s most prominent supporters, and one from Söring’s Freundeskreis (circle of supporters). These folks had gone to the trouble of translating my piece from German to English, then translating their replies from English to German (at least I assume; the letter from the circle of supporters may have been written by a German speaker). The letters were sharp in tone, and critiqued me earlier piece on many points. The FAZ took note of this, as was entirely proper. They asked me to prepare a response, which I was happy to do.
To help prepare the response, I reached out to a contact. The contact put me in touch with Terry Wright. I soon learned that Terry Wright, a retired Scotland Yard detective who took Söring’s confessions and testified at his trial, had also been dismayed by the incorrect information Söring and his supporters were broadcasting about the case. Söring’s theory of the case relies in part on allegations of abuse and deception by the Scotland Yard detectives to whom he confessed. Wright knew no such abuse had taken place. So he decided to write a letter to Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia explaining why Söring’s innocence claims were false. Wright found so many errors, lies, and exaggerations that his report (written in close consultation with another Scotland Yard detective, Kenneth Beever) grew to over 450 pages. Wright was gracious enough to allow me to see the report to help me prepare my response. The report is now online, and anyone can download it for free here.
Over a period of about a week, I read the entire report. The report is a precise, meticulous, utterly convincing refutation of every one of Söring’s innocence claims. Wright’s decades of experience at the top of his profession (he ended his career as a liaison officer from Scotland Yard to FBI Headquarters in Quantico, Virginia), shows from every page. Before I read the report, I had strong doubts about Jens Söring’s innocence claims. After I read it, I knew they were fraudulent. Wright patiently shows how Söring has lied about dozens of important issues in his case, and how his supporters have failed to treat Söring’s statements with the necessary scrutiny.
I wrote a brief article for the FAZ on the day Jens Söring landed in Germany, December 17th. But I realized I had to not only address the issues in the letters to the editor, but also give some idea of the Wright report. So I spent weeks feverishly writing a 17,000-word article. The reason it’s so long is simple: Söring’s supporters have generated dozens of arguments why Söring was innocent or unfairly convicted, and they will passionately advocate every single one. If you refute two of their arguments, they come back with three more. It’s a classic game of whack-a-mole. The only way to achieve closure was a summa contra directed at all of the main arguments for Sörings innocence.
So, to sum up: I didn’t want to allow my life to be hijacked by this case, but it was, due to circumstances beyond my control. However, I’m fine with that; I think my article — but much more importantly, Terry Wright’s report — does a convincing job of setting the record straight once and for all.
6. Did you write the articles in German?
Yes. I earn most of my living as a German-English translator, and write and speak fluent German. I’ve lived in Germany for over 15 years and love it here. My German isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good. I had some help from friends and acquaintances who brushed up my German drafts, and of course the editors at the FAZ and other publications, who fixed the remaining mistakes, for which I’m grateful.
I think that’s about it. If you have any further questions, please feel free to get in touch.