Comparative Law, Criminal Law, Murder, Police and Prosecutors, Soering, True Crime

Söring Interview in ‘Der Spiegel’; Another Change in Söring’s Story

After returning to Germany on December 17, 2019, Jens Söring took a few months to get re-accustomed to freedom before going public. And now, finally, he’s broken his media silence by giving an 8-hour interview (g) to three journalists from Der Spiegel, Germany’s leading weekly news magazine.

Söring was accompanied for the interview not only by his lawyer, but also a media consultant.

Who Killed the Haysoms? The Second Disappearing Defamation

I’ll discuss the interview in more depth below, but the new information it contains is that Jens Söring has (again) changed his story of who killed the Haysoms. He now claims he has no idea who it was (my translations):

SPIEGEL: Back to Nancy and Derek Haysom: Did you kill them both?

Söring: Absolutely not. [translator’s note: this is in English in the original]

SPIEGEL: Who was it then?

Söring: I don’t know. I wasn’t there.

SPIEGEL: If it wasn’t you, who killed them both?

Söring: In the final analysis, we will never know.

SPIEGEL: Isn’t that hard to deal with?

Söring: Yes. But it doesn’t matter. I wasn’t there.

Overall, this interview is much better than the majority of interviews of Söring, so I don’t want to be too hard on the journalists. But allowing Söring to change his story was a lapse. It is simply a lie for Söring to claim he doesn’t “know” who killed the Haysoms: Jens Söring is selling a book in Germany right now in which he explicitly accuses Elizabeth Haysom of killing Derek and Nancy Haysom.

That book is called (in my translation) “Not Guilty! 33 Years in US Prison for a Crime I Didn’t Commit”, and the new edition bears a red promotional sticker: “German Victim of Miscarriage of Justice Finally Free”. Here’s a screenshot from Söring’s Twitter timeline in which Söring spots his own book in a train station bookstore in “illustrious company”:chrome_X4VEeEtOVy

In “Not Guilty”, Söring describes how Elizabeth Haysom confessed to Jens Söring: “I killed my parents. I killed my parents. But it wasn’t me who did it, it was the drugs which made me do it.” (Kindle position 1143). Söring later says he saw “dry reddish-brown” smears on Elizabeth’s forearms which were “blood” (1162). Later in the book he informs the reader that he and Elizabeth had decided to switch roles — he would confess to the killing of the Haysoms, even though Elizabeth “had killed her own parents” (2554). This accusation is surely known to the interviewers. In the background information accompanying the interview of Söring, the authors write of Söring’s 1990 trial: “Back then, he told the court that [Elizabeth] killed her parents and told him the details.”

So wait — if Söring told the court Elizabeth killed her parents, and is currently selling a book in which he says Elizabeth killed her parents, why didn’t the interviewers ask him about the change his story? Did they not notice it? That seems impossible; the inconsistency jumps out even to a casual reader. It’s obvious what is going on here: Söring has realized that Elizabeth Haysom is paying close attention to everything he says and may even have hired a lawyer (as Söring did himself). So he is now unwilling to publicly accuse Elizabeth of murdering her own parents, for fear of being sued.

But that’s precisely what his book does, and it is still on sale all over Germany.

I can only presume the lawyer and media consultant forbade any attempts to ask Söring about why he changed his story and now no longer implicates Elizabeth. But if that is the case, in my opinion, the journalists should have told the reader this fact.

Another critique: The background information to the interview states that Söring was convicted on “circumstantial” evidence (Indizienprozess). This is incorrect. Confessions and direct eyewitness testimony are direct, not circumstantial evidence. And Söring provided direct eyewitness testimony about who committed the crimes, in the form of his confessions. And this was backed up by the direct eyewitness testimony of Elizabeth Haysom, who heard Söring’s confession and witnessed bloodstains on his clothes, body, and car.

After those points of critique, though, let’s turn to what the interviewers do well. First, they tell the reader Söring was accompanied by his lawyer and media consultant. This is crucial context — although I would have appreciated more details about what rules the they set for the interview, if any. Second, the interviewers consistently refer to Söring’s “version” of events. Many interviews simply reprint what Söring says at face value, without ever separating his claims from the actual record of what happened. Third, the journalists accurately note that Söring’s argument that the DNA evidence excludes him is backed up only by “experts hired by his lawyers”, and that “other experts doubt the conclusions they reached.” It’s clear the reporters found Söring an interesting and sympathetic figure in some respects, but they did at least try to maintain some journalistic distance.

I found the rest of the interview fascinating. Söring delivers a scathing critique of Virginia prison conditions — the ever-present threat of violence or rape, the dehumanization, the disgusting food, the noise and ugliness and total lack of privacy. Most depressing of all is the “meaninglessness” (Sinnlosigkeit) of prison life. The critique is convincing; American prisons are, to quote one of Söring’s own book titles, “an expensive way to make bad people worse”.

Söring recounts how he narrowly escaped being raped, and how he managed to gain crucial status by running a money-lending operation from behind bars. Söring notes that he became an exercise fanatic to help defend himself from potential attackers, and claims meditation “saved his life”. Söring is intelligent and sensitive, and prison is particularly nightmarish for such people. That may sound snobbish, but it’s an undeniable fact. It is a remarkable achievement for him to have maintained his sanity and will to live. He also seems to be well on the way to adapting to life in freedom, which is also encouraging news. As I’ve said before, I endorse the decision to release Söring and Haysom, and wish them both the best in adapting to life on the outside.

It is encouraging that Söring has apparently decided to stop slandering Elizabeth Haysom, but that still doesn’t get us closer to the truth: Jens Söring killed the Haysoms, and there is no reason to doubt his guilt.

Why is Söring still claiming his innocence? The following question and answer are revealing:

SPIEGEL: Did people propose marriage to you when you were in prison?

Söring: Of course there were romantic letters now and then. On the basis that I am innocent.

5 thoughts on “Söring Interview in ‘Der Spiegel’; Another Change in Söring’s Story”

  1. Maybe the journalists weren’t allowed to report the interview pre conditions?
    Incarceration is far far more crushing if you are innocent.
    Look at the case of Sally Clark, Stefan Kizsko. Neither were able to recover after they were cleared.
    And the Amanda Knox news conference at the airport after her return home.
    No jubilation, just tears – unlike Soering’s.

  2. I doubt that one member of a murder conspiracy can drag another in court and sue them for defamation because of some discrepancy over precisely what role each played in a brutal double murder.

    1. Actually, that’s an interesting question, both under US and German law.I think she would have a hard time in a US court, for the reason you mention. A US court could hold that her reputation is ruined anyway, so she’s basically “defamation-proof”. However, you could argue that there is a crucial distinction between merely being an accomplice and actually carrying out the deed. How do we know this? Because Virginia law recognizes this distinction: it only imposes capital punishment for people who personally did the killing. Accomplices can only get life imprisonment, max. So there is literally a life-or-death distinction in the law of Virginia.

      In Germany, she would have a much stronger claim, since Germany has what’s called a “right of personality” that protects you against not just defamation but insults. Also, the German courts recognize a “right to be forgotten” for people who have served their criminal sentences. Once you’ve been released from prison, you have the right to keep your criminal past secret. By constantly continuing to drag her name into the spotlight, Söring could be violating this right.

      It’s a complex issue which, as far as I know, nobody has faced in this exact form before. If she does decide to sue, the courts will have an interesting case before them.

      1. Sueing for libel is an extremely costly process and if you lose you can be liable for all costs, so she may be understandably reticent.
        However those books aren’t just going to vanish, so that must be causing him some concern.

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