Basic Rights, Criminal Law, Evidence, Human Dignity, Murder, Police and Prosecutors, Soering, True Crime

The Markus Lanz Complaint in English

On May 20th, I submitted a complaint in German to the ZDF, one of Germany’s two public broadcasting stations, regarding the interview with Jens Söring broadcast on the Markus Lanz talk show on May 14, 2020. Here is an English translation of that complaint. I’ve made a few adjustments and adaptations, but the substance is identical.

I. Introduction

On May 14, 2020, the ZDF, one of the two nationwide public television stations in Germany, broadcast a 75-minute ZDF episode of the talk show Markus Lanz. The studio guests were the convicted double murderer and con man Jens Söring and the criminologist Prof. Dr. Bernd Maelicke, professor at the Institute of Social Economy. Excerpts from an earlier interview with the US-American author John Grisham were also integrated into the show.

However, the show consisted primarily of a long interview with Jens Söring. Topics of discussion were Söring’s murder trial in the USA, his protestations of innocence, and his experiences during his confinement in American prisons. Söring was allowed to repeatedly claim his innocence. Neither Mr. Lanz nor Prof. Dr. Maelicke asked Söring any critical questions. No guest was invited or consulted to verify Söring’s or Grisham’s claims and statements or to ask him critical questions. Neither Mr. Lanz nor the ZDF made any efforts to have Söring’s statements verified by independent experts.

The result was a deeply one-sided program which falsified of one of the most important cases in recent American criminal history, and reinforced negative prejudices about the US justice system.

In particular, no mention was made of the clear evidence against Söring, who confessed to the crime in 1986, and maintained his confession over a period of years and repeated it again and again in two-party discussions with psychologists. Several statements by Söring and Grisham were also clearly defamatory. Söring himself, on the advice of his lawyers, declined to personally accuse his then-girlfriend, Elizabeth Haysom, of murdering her own parents live during the interview. However, Lanz helped Söring raise this false allegation by proxy by conveniently showing a recording of Söring’s 1990 trial testimony with these accusations.  Even by Söring’s own admission, there is no indication whatsoever that this account of Elizabeth’s presence at the crime scene is supported by any facts.

The scope of this complaint should be clarified in advance:

  1. Söring’s description of prison life in Virginia is expressly not a focus of this complaint. Prison conditions in the USA are of obvious relevance and there is no evidence that Söring’s remarks on this topic are misleading.
  2. It is also expressly not a focus of this complaint that Söring was invited to the Markus Lanz program to convey his views of his trial and the evidence used against him. Mr. Söring enjoys a right to freedom of expression under Article 5 of the German Basic Law. Rather, the sole focus of this complaint is that the ZDF made no efforts to create a balanced, well-founded program or to protect the personal rights and dignity of the people attacked by Grisham and Söring.

The parts of program which violated ZDF guidelines will be explained in detail below. First, the Complainants will list excerpts of the relevant portions of the ZDF’s “Guidelines for Broadcasts and Telemedia Services” (as of 2009) (II). This is followed by background information on the Söring case relevant to this complaint (III). Then come detailed explanations of how certain statements made during the program violated the guidelines (IV). Finally, steps will be proposed to limit the damage caused by this program (V).

II. Relevant ZDF guidelines

The following ZDF guidelines are relevant for the assessment of the program:

Guideline I (1): “Human dignity…must be preserved in all broadcasts and telemedia services.” (hereinafter referred to as the Human Dignity Guideline).

Guideline I (2) “…The right of personality…must be respected in programming” (Right of Personality Guideline)

Guideline I (3) “Programming should … shed light on relevant background and context and provide guidance in assessing and weighting the information provided.” (Background Information Guideline).

Guideline I (4) …Doubts about the reliability of information shall, if present, be communicated.” (Doubts About Reliability Guideline).

Guideline III (4) “Information programming must help viewers to form their own opinion by presenting essential materials. Programming must not try to determine a viewer’s decision by omitting important facts…” (Omitting Important Facts Guideline).

Guideline III (5) “Broadcasts in which one point of view on contentious issues is presented alone, or predominates, require appropriate balance. If individual programs present a distinct opinion on contentious issues, they shall, where possible, include references to the other programs which provide balance.” (Balance Guideline).

Guideline III (6) “Care should be taken to ensure that opposing points of view are treated as equally as possible.” (Equal Treatment Guideline).

Guideline VII (4) “Programs shall not contain harsh (verrohend) invective or incitements to violence.” (Harsh Invective Guideline).

Unless otherwise indicated, all translations were made by the Complainant Andrew Hammel (sworn translator before the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court).

III.        Factual Background

The following is a short summary of the case, written by Complainant Andrew Hammel and published on the front page of the leading German newspaper the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 18 December 2019:

Söring was born in 1966 in Thailand as the son of a German diplomat. After his father was transferred to America, he began studying at the University of Virginia. In August 1984 he met Elizabeth Haysom, then 20 years old. Elizabeth Haysom was the daughter of Derek and Nancy Haysom, a wealthy Virginia couple. Söring and Elizabeth – both intelligent, neurotic and mentally unstable – began a relationship marked by euphoric passion, emotional tension and bizarre fantasies of violence (the correspondence between the two can be read online). Haysom’s parents disapproved of their daughter’s relationship with Söring. The dislike was mutual: Haysom and Söring hated Haysom’s parents.

Together they made plans to kill the Haysoms. On March 30, 1985, the young couple drove to Washington, D.C. There they booked a hotel room and bought movie tickets to establish an alibi. Then Jens drove to the Haysoms, where there was first a conversation, then an argument; finally he “flipped out”, as Söring later said. He began stabbing Elizabeth’s parents without warning. The victims were stabbed dozens of times.

After the murders, Söring returned to Washington. In October 1985 he was asked to give blood samples and fingerprints to the police. Instead, he fled the United States in haste; Elizabeth followed him shortly after. In April 1986 they were caught in a check-kiting scam in London. Wright was one of the detectives assigned to the fraud case. Söring and Haysom confessed their respective roles in the murder plot to Wright and other officials. Both were extradited after the State of Virginia agreed to waive the death penalty. In his trial [which took place in 1990, more than four years after his first confession and more than two years after Elizabeth’s final conviction] Söring radically changed his story: Elizabeth, he now claimed, had killed her parents herself while he, Söring, had been waiting in Washington. He confessed to the crime only to protect her from the death penalty. The jury did not believe him. His appeals were rejected.

An exhaustive newspaper article (in German) with a much more detailed description of the case is attached as Appendix I to this Complaint.

After Söring’s trial, he and his lawyers filed several appeals and habeas corpus petitions. As a result, Söring’s case has been reviewed by numerous courts:

Soering v. Commonwealth of Virginia, Record No. 1610-09-3, Virginia Court of Appeals, 1990 (not available online, on file with Andrew Hammel).

Soering v. Deeds, Record No. 971647, Virginia Supreme Court, April 17, 1998.

Soering v. Deeds, No 99-6498, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, June 30, 2000.

Soering v. Warden of Brunswick Correctional Center, No. 03-7863, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, August 24, 2004.

Among other things, Söring’s appeals claimed that (1) his confessions were obtained under unconstitutional circumstances; (2) the judge at his trial, William Sweeney, was biased; and (3) his privately appointed trial lawyers, Richard Neaton and William Cleaveland, performed deficiently. All courts have unanimously rejected all of Sörings’ claims. After a thorough review of the evidence, the United States Court of Appeals in its 2000 opinion noted (pp. 7-8) there was “overwhelming evidence that [Söring] personally killed the Haysoms.”

Söring is therefore not only a convicted murderer, but has also exhausted all legal channels open to him without convincing a single judge. Söring has, however, been able to convince a small group of followers of his innocence, including the guest on the program, John Grisham.

In November 2019, Söring was released on probation. The agency responsible for this decision, the Virginia Parole Board, has previously reviewed all of Söring’s allegations and found them to be unfounded. The Board expressly confirmed Söring’s guilt in its statement about his release:

“The Parole Board made an unfavorable recommendation to the Governor on Jens Soering’s absolute pardon petition. The years -long exhaustive investigation for a genuine search for the truth revealed that Jens Soering’s claims of innocence are  without merit. On Monday, November 25th, the Governor denied Jens Soering’s request for a pardon.”

From his conviction in 1990 until February 2020, Söring proposed an alternative history of his case: Elizabeth Haysom murdered her parents with her own hands, and he confessed to the crime only to protect her from the death penalty. In 1987, Elizabeth Haysom pleaded guilty only to being an accessory before the fact in the murder of her parents, and was sentenced to 2 counts of 45 years imprisonment. There has never been an official finding that she was at the crime scene, and there is no evidence she was.

On 22 January 2020, two senior Scotland Yard police officers, who had questioned Söring and Haysom personally, published an comprehensive 454-page report on the Söring case entitled “A True Report on the Facts of the Investigation of the Murders of Derek and Nancy Haysom” (attached as Appendix 2) which deals with each of Söring’s allegations. On the basis of numerous original documents, the report definitively establishes that Söring is guilty and was properly convicted. Söring has never commented on this report.

IV. Specific violations of the Guidelines

A. Overall concept of the program and conditions imposed by Söring

Although Jens Söring’s guilt has been officially established, there was no guest on the program to defend his conviction. Söring and Grisham were allowed to harshly criticize actors in Söring’s trial and the American justice system as a whole without any contrary voice or critical questioning. The result was a program in which only Söring’s point of view was conveyed. As will be shown in detail below, many of Söring’s statements made during the broadcast are demonstrably false. The program as a whole presents a completely one-sided and misleading version of important historical events.

There is also an interview with John Grisham in the online media library, in which Grisham harshly attacks the American justice system and personally attacks actors in the Söring case. This extremely one-sided blanket condemnation was shown in extracts during Söring’s interview and is still available in full length in the ZDF media library without any context, fact-checking, or alternative viewpoint.

It is also almost certainly the case that Markus Lanz and the producers complied with demands and limitations dictated by Söring and his team of consultants. Söring is represented by the Hamburg law firm of Cronemeyer & Grulert and the Hamburg media consultants Dederichs, Reinecke & Partner. Representatives of both were present, for example, at Soering’s interview with Der Spiegel. It can be assumed that Söring’s advisors ordered Lanz to avoid asking Söring certain questions or to invite guests who did not share his views. However, viewers were never informed about the conditions or requirements under which the interview was conducted. In order to understand how this one-sided program came about, all communication between Söring’s representatives and the “Markus Lanz” production team program must be disclosed.

For the above reasons, the overall concept of the program infringes Guideline III (6) (equal treatment), and Guideline III (5) (balance). The non-transparent handling of the conditions imposed by Söring also infringes Guideline I (4) (doubt as to reliability) and Guideline III (4) (omission of important facts).

B. General observations on Söring’s statements

The credibility of Jens Söring was never directly addressed during the program.  Yet there are several official findings which severely undermine Söring’s credibility. Söring is not only a convicted double murderer, he was also sentenced to one year imprisonment in London, UK, for fraud. In the words of the European Court of Human Rights, Soering v. United Kingdom, ECHR-E 4, 376, 7 July 1989: “The applicant [Söring] was subsequently imprisoned in Chelmsford prison on 30 December 1986 (after serving a prison sentence for cheque fraud).”

Söring has also committed perjury at least twice. The first official finding of perjury was in March 1990, prior to his trial in Bedford County, Virginia. On 1 March 1990, Söring testified under oath before District Judge William Sweeney that he only confessed to the crime because English Scotland Yard investigator Kenneth Beever threatened Elizabeth Haysom with physical violence. Beever also testified under oath and vehemently rejected the accusation. In an interim decision (on file with Complainant Andrew Hammel) the judge ruled that Söring had lied under oath: “Simply stated, I do not believe Soering on this issue. He produced no corroboration, written or oral. The officer emphatically denied making such statement, and the subsequent taped interviews which the court listened to for five hours gave no suggestion that Soering was acting under duress at any time.” No appeals court ever challenged this finding.

Söring perjured himself a second time before the jury in his main trial. Unlike in Germany, in American court proceedings, defendants must also take an oath to tell the truth. Söring’s testimony, if the jury had believed it, would have conclusively established his innocence of murder. Therefore, the guilty verdict is in itself an official finding that Söring committed perjury. Not every defense against a criminal accusation in the USA is perjury, but the accused has the free choice of letting his lawyer speak for him or letting himself be questioned by the prosecutor.

During the broadcast, however, there was absolutely no reference to these facts, which are indispensable for a reliable assessment of Söring’s credibility.

The uncritical broadcast of Söring’s statements, as a whole, therefore violates Guideline I (4) (doubts about reliability) and Guideline III (4) (omission of important facts).

Guideline I (4) was especially clearly violated. Söring’s claim that he confessed to the crime “out of love for his girlfriend at the time, Elizabeth,” in order to “save her from the electric chair” is so obviously illogical that every journalist would have to address it:

Söring had stated in his first confession that he planned and carried out the crime together with Elizabeth. The two of them agreed that Elizabeth should stay in Washington, D.C. on the night of the crime while he committed the crime alone.

This statement is, of course, completely inconsistent with protecting Elizabeth. Söring’s confession implicates Elizabeth being an accessory before the fact to capital murder, which in Virginia is punishable by life imprisonment. Elizabeth Haysom was in fact convicted for exactly this crime, and received two prison sentences of 45 years.

C. Specific Statements by Jens Söring

1. Reasons for Parole

Söring claims that he had no hope for a pardon or parole because only prisoners who acknowledge their guilt can receive them. But Söring could never show remorse because, as he maintains, he did not commit the crime. Söring says (timestamp 14:20): “[The Virginia authorities] have never been able to break me. That’s what they wanted from me, and they never got it. And the fact that they released me anyway is an admission by the Virginia authorities that I did not do it, or at least that there are very serious doubts about my guilt.”

This statement is slanderous and false. Söring suggests the Virginian authorities that Virginia used cruel or inhuman methods to “break” him. This is a collective defamation of the Virginia justice system and parole board. Söring provides no evidence for this defamatory statement. Demanding that convicted and palpably guilty offenders such as Söring take responsibility for their crime is not torture, but an important step in rehabilitation. Therefore, in all justice systems in the world, including in Germany, remorse is an important and legitimate criteria in decisions about pardon or parole — especially with respect to murder, the most serious of all crimes.

Söring’s statement about the reasons for his release is also false. As stated above, the Virginian Parole Board reviewed his case “exhaustively” and expressly re-confirmed his guilt. At timestamp 18:26, Söring says that his pardon was not granted because the state of Virginia improperly refused to admit a miscarriage of justice in his case. If the State had formally acknowledged a miscarriage of justice, Söring would be entitled to compensation for imprisonment, which, according to Söring, Virginia did not want to pay for political and fiscal reasons. This insinuation is also false and defamatory. Söring’s plea for clemency was rejected because he is obviously guilty and has shown no remorse. Virginia is quite willing to admit to miscarriages of justice and pay compensation for imprisonment. In dozens of cases of genuine false convictions, Virginia has done exactly this.

Söring was denied compensation not on political or fiscal grounds, but because Söring’s imprisonment was fully justified – as the authorities in Virginia have expressly stated. Söring’s misrepresentation of the situation was never corrected.

Söring’s statement “they wanted to break me” violates, inter alia, Guideline I (2) (right of personality) and Guideline VII (4) (harsh invective).

Söring’s misleading statements as to the reasons for his release violate, inter alia, Guideline I (3) (background) and Guideline III (4) (omission of important facts).

2. Sweeping criticism of US justice

At timestamp 29:14, Söring says: “The American justice system is based on demonstrating toughness, ruthlessness, and in some ways inhumanity.”

Mr. Söring enjoys a right to freedom of expression under Article 5 of the German Basic Law. But his highly simplified and sweeping polemic was not critically questioned, put into context, or countered by a contrary viewpoint. It therefore infringes Guideline VII (4) (harsh invective); Guideline III (5) (balance).

3. False statements about the night of the crime

At timestamp 37:14, the following exchange begins:

Söring: “I wasn’t at the scene. I didn’t know anything about it. I was in Washington, DC. And I went to the movies. And I only learned of the killings later.

Question by Markus Lanz: “From her”? [i.e. Elizabeth]”

[After a long pause Lanz mentions “legal reasons”. Söring enthusiastically embraces this supposedly spontaneous interjection by Lanz]: “I can’t talk about the night of the crime in those terms anymore because I have to obey German laws. All I can say is, I was not at the scene of the crime.”

To explain this mystifying passage: the German “laws” that Söring “has to obey” are laws  on personality rights, insults, defamation, etc. Since his girlfriend at the time, Elizabeth Haysom, was also released on parole and is now represented by a German lawyer, Söring must reckon with serious legal consequences if he accuses Elizabeth Haysom of murdering her own parents. These negative consequences have already been conveyed to Söring and his representatives by that German lawyer. Because Söring’s lawyers apparently (and correctly) believe this accusation to be not provable and clearly defamatory, they have ordered Söring to no longer make it.

In order for Söring to nevertheless accuse Elizabeth of murder, it was agreed in the run-up to the broadcast that after Lanz had mentioned Elizabeth, and Söring replied that he was not allowed to make any statements about her, a previously prepared excerpt from Söring’s 1990 trial would be played. In this clip, Söring claims before the jury that Elizabeth Haysom personally murdered her own parents. Of course, Söring cannot be prosecuted for his statements at his trial. The program’s production team thus helped Söring to revive his accusation against Elizabeth Haysom.

This section of the program contains two examples of missing background. For one thing, the viewer should have known that Söring’s story about not knowing about the crime was conclusively refuted at his trial in Washington, DC. The absence of objective analysis of his story from a neutral or opposing party is contrary to several Guidelines.

Lanz also conceals a central fact: In his German-language book “Not Guilty“, published in 2012 and reprinted in 2019 with a foreword by Söring after his release, Söring still claims that Elizabeth Haysom murdered her own parents. In the preface written in 2019, the following sentence appears: “Ever since the night that Elizabeth killed her parents, I’ve been under constant external pressure…” (Kindle position 69). But in a Spiegel interview published 28 February 2020, Söring suddenly changed his story. In this interview Söring now claims that he does not know who killed Derek and Nancy Haysom. During the Lanz interview, Söring also claims not to know “who wielded the knife”.

The fact that Söring has recently changed core element of his narrative several times is obviously of vital importance to evaluating his credibility. Nevertheless, viewers were not informed about it.

The uncritical broadcast of Söring’s statements therefore violates, inter alia, Guideline I (3) (background), Guideline I (4) (doubts about reliability), and Guideline III (4) (omission of important facts).

4. Statements on the credibility of Elizabeth Haysom

As noted above, Elizabeth Haysom has never changed her story about her role in the crime since 1986. She testified during her interrogation in London about her role in the crime and did not change this statement, either in her criminal proceedings or at any later date. The court found her testimony to be credible, and her guilty plea was accepted. Nevertheless, Söring accuses Elizabeth of being a liar. At timestamp 29:14, Söring says: “It would be nice if she could tell the truth, but I don’t think she ever will.”

This remark was made after the viewer had seen the extract from Söring’s trial in which he called Elizabeth a murderer. In the context, therefore, the meaning of Söring’s remark is unequivocal: Elizabeth Haysom killed her parents but will never tell the truth about it. In other words: Elizabeth Haysom is both a murderer and a liar. Söring’s statement is both defamatory and false. There is no evidence that Elizabeth Haysom was personally present when her parents were murdered by Jens Haysom. In contrast, to quote the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals once again, there is “overwhelming evidence that [Söring] personally killed the Haysoms.”

Elizabeth Haysom was not given the opportunity to defend her own reputation against Söring’s grave and completely unfounded accusations. Mr. Lanz did not even reveal whether ZDF had asked for a statement from Haysom or her family.

The broadcast of this defamatory statement (Elizabeth Haysom is a liar and murderer) without context or challenge violates, among others, Guideline I (1) (human dignity); Guideline I (2) (personality rights); Guideline III (5) (balance); Guideline III (6) (equal treatment).

5. Statement concerning Söring’s criminal record

At timestamp 29:14, Söring says: “That night [after my sentence was imposed] I became a convicted criminal for the first time in my life.”

This is also false. As stated above under IV.B, Söring and Haysom were sentenced to imprisonment for cheque fraud in London, UK in 1986. Söring even described this fraud in detail in his German-language book “Not Guilty! “After six weeks of waiting and saving, we were ready to our big con to get started.” (Kindle item 2048).

The uncritical broadcast of this misrepresentation infringes Guideline III (4) (omission of important facts) and Guideline I (3) (background).

6. Söring’s statements on the sock print at the crime scene

At the crime scene, the perpetrator left a bloody sockprint. This sockprint was similar to Söring’s foot, and was extensively analyzed as evidence at his trial. Since a sockprint has very limited identifiable characteristics compared to a footprint, the expert witness at the trial, Robert Hallett, was only permitted to claimed that the sockprint was comparable to Söring’s footprint, not that Söring had left the sockprint himself. In other words, a sockprint cannot be linked to a specific person, but it can exclude people with significantly larger or smaller feet. Hallett said only said that the sockprint does not exclude Söring because it was neither much larger nor much smaller than Söring’s footprint, and shared some of the characteristics of Sörings foot. Both the sock prints from the crime scene and the footprints provided by Söring and Haysom were discussed in great detail at Söring’s trial. The jury was allowed to inspect official photos of the crime scene and footprints for comparison purposes.

But viewers did not learn about any of this. Söring initially claims that he was convicted “because of this sock print” (timestamp 52:18). This is of course wrong, the sockprint was only one piece of the evidence. Söring was convicted primarily on the basis of his confessions, which were lawfully obtained and richly corroborated. Lanz then made the following statement which could have been scripted by Söring himself (timestamp 52:30): “That sock print was not your size at all!” Soring’s answer was, of course: “Of course.” The viewer was left with the impression that the sockprint was significantly different from Söring’s foot size (Söring mentions “2 and 1/2” American shoe sizes) – and that the judge, the prosecutor, the jury, the audience in the courtroom, and millions of people in the television audience at the time (Söring’s 1990 trial was broadcast live on television) somehow failed to notice this glaring discrepancy.

This idea is, of course, absurd. The jury compared the sock print with a print of Söring’s foot and found it to be comparable. The same applies to the FBI expert, Robert Hallett, who testified at the trial. Even Söring writes about the comparison in his book: “The resemblance was remarkable”. (Not Guilty!, Kindle position 2948)

However, it is not necessary to examine the court files to judge the comparability of fusabrkcSöring’s foot and the sockprint. Söring’s trial was one of the most famous in American criminal history, and was also broadcast live on television. The evidence admitted at trial can be easily found anywhere on the Internet. The photo above left shows the footprints of Elizabeth Haysom (left) and Jens Söring (right), as well as the footprint left at the crime scene. There are also numerous videos on the Internet that clearly show the very evidence the jury saw. It is obvious that the Söring’s footprint is comparable to the sockprint at the crime scene. That is all Hallett said at Söring’s trial.

Right after the exchange over the sock print something remarkable happens: Markus Lanz says (broadcast time 53:19): “There were so many contradictions in the case that I – that you wonder, in retrospect, why at some point someone [didn’t] jump up and say ‘Stop! The whole picture just doesn’t fit together’.” Here, Lanz obviously throws any approach of neutrality overboard and takes Söring’s side. The scene could have been written by Söring’s media consultants.

Instead of critically examining Söring’s statements, Lanz actively helps to create a misleading impression for the viewer. This is an violation of, inter alia, Guideline (3) (background); Guideline III (5) (balance); and Guideline III (4) (omitting important facts).

D. Statements by John Grisham

This complaint also encompasses the interview with John Grisham under the title “He’s not guilty”, which is available in the ZDF Media Library. Grisham is a fervent supporter of Jens Söring, as can be seen from the fact that Grisham calls Söring (timestamp 13:00) “a great guy”.  In his interview, Grisham sums up the case exactly as Söring wants it to be portrayed. Like Söring, Grisham violates the personality rights of actors in the Söring case and misleads the viewer.

1. Misleading statements

Timestamp 5:53: “There was no evidence that Jens was at the crime scene.” This is wrong. Blood of Söring’s type and a sock print comparable to Söring’s foot were found at the crime scene. This evidence was not strong, but it didn’t need to prove Söring’s presence at the crime scene on its own, because Söring’s confessions proved that.

Timestamp 6:13: “He almost cut their heads off.” Wrong. Söring slit Nancy Haysom’s throat, but she wasn’t nearly decapitated.

Timestamp 6:23: regarding Sörings confessions: “He got some of the facts right, he got a bunch of the facts wrong.” This statement by Grisham is also false. Söring’s confession contained extensive knowledge only the perpetrator could have known and which Söring could not have learned from Elizabeth, as confirmed by the report of Terry Wright (Appendix 2, p. 331):

Soering told us that the Haysoms were drinking when he arrived at their home. The autopsies revealed high levels of alcohol in the victims. He described the dining table settings exactly as they were found by police, even telling us who sat where. He told us that he removed his shoes and sock impressions were found in the crime scene. Soering also told us that he cut the throats of his victims and their throats were cut as he said. He said that Derek Haysom was hitting him about his head and that he cut his fingers on his left hand during the struggle and showed us the scars. A witness reported seeing him with bruises on his face and bandages on his left hand. Soering said that he tried to clean himself up in the kitchen and bathroom. These are the locations where type O blood was found and Soering has type O blood. He also drew sketches of where the dead bodies lay, describing a pool of blood around Nancy Haysom’s head, and how Derek Haysom was laying on his side with his legs towards the doorway, exactly how they were found. Do not believe the lie that Soering tells, saying he indicated the wrong locations for the bodies. The distribution of the various blood types in the crime scene are also consistent with what Soering said in his confessions.

Terry Wright personally took Söring’s confessions, investigated the case for years, and testified twice at Söring’s trial. His knowledge of the case is, therefore, incomparably more extensive than Grisham’s.

There was only one memory gap in Jens Söring’s confession; he could not remember what clothes Nancy Haysom wore (Appendix 2, p. 295):

Wright – “Jens, can you remember what they themselves were wearing… Nancy and Derek?” Soering – “What they were wearing… (long pause) …. That’s a very hard question. Let me try to think. I think Mrs. Haysom was wearing jeans…. I think, ah .., but I.., like I said ah… it’s… I would say that part of it is very… very confused.” Wright – “It’s vague?

Soering – “Yes, very confused.”

This is the only “mistake” in the confessions. And it was relatively insignificant, since Nancy Haysom’s clothes were denim-colored.

These misleading factual allegations by John Grisham, passed on without comment and without verification, violate, inter alia, Guideline III (4) (omission of important facts); Guideline III (6) (equivalent treatment); and Guideline III (5) (balance).

2. Defamatory statements

Grisham also attacked the reputation of Söring’s lawyers and his now deceased trial judge. At timestamp 7:52, Grisham says: “Jens had a terrible defense lawyer at trial. The judge was a crony of the family.

These statements are clearly defamatory and false. Söring was represented by two lawyers, Richard Neaton and William Cleaveland. Their performance has been reviewed and found to be competent by several courts, whose verdicts are linked above. See, e.g., Soering v. Deeds, No 99-6498, 30 June 2000, Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, p. 8: (“Counsel was … not ineffective”); p. 9: (“Counsel’s performance was not objectively deficient”)

Grisham’s statement regarding the now-deceased trial judge, William Sweeney, is particularly problematic. In the German translation from the English “crony”, which was provided by ZDF, “crony” is translated as “family friend”. But this meaning is generally limited to the informal sector. The word “crony”, in the political/legal context that applies here, has a clearly negative connotation. This is evidenced by the example sentences that appear for the entry “crony” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the leading American dictionary:

The mayor rewarded his cronies with high-paying jobs after he was elected.

The criminal’s cronies were also closely questioned about the illegal gambling operation.

Grisham seems to be accusing Judge William Sweeney of some sort of shady connection to the Haysom family. This is demonstrably wrong. Judge William Sweeney had a superficial social friendship with the Haysoms, nothing more. in his 1991 appeal, Söring claimed this relationship disqualified Sweeney. This argument was rejected by the Virginia Court of Appeals in 1991. That court reviewed Söring’s trial and found no evidence of “bias, prejudice or the appearance of impropriety” in Sweeney’s conduct of the case. Even in Germany, such a relationship of a judge to a party would be unobjectionable, see OLG Hamm, Decision of 15.05.2012 – I-1 W 20/12 (“loose friendship” between judge and party no reason to assume bias).

V. Requested Relief

For the reasons stated above, the two broadcasts in question violated several ZDF guidelines. The Complainants therefore request the following:

  1. The immediate removal of both programs from the ZDF online media library.
  2. ZDF shall refrain from any further broadcasting of the programs in any form whatsoever.
  3. ZDF and Mhoch2 Productions shall release to the complainants all correspondence relating to the program between Markus Lanz or his representatives, ZDF, the production company Mhoch2 on the one hand, and Jens Söring and his representatives on the other.
  4. Markus Lanz shall publicly and effectively distance himself from both broadcasts.


  1. If the broadcasts are not removed from the media library or re-broadcast, ZDF must broadcast a contrary position at least as long as the broadcasts, immediately afterwards. This contrary position shall then be made available for an indefinite period of time alongside the original programs in the ZDF media library.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Best regards,

Düsseldorf, 20 May 2020

2 thoughts on “The Markus Lanz Complaint in English”

  1. Incredibly thorough. I was hoping in the first instance you would make the alternate 4. conditional upon request 3. Then fall back on the alternate once ZDF responded.
    I assume ZDF would be prevented from complying by whatever legal agreement has been signed with JS, but good to get this confirmed in their response.
    So in the interests of balanced journalism and getting out of jail, the alternate is a no brainer

  2. Thank you, Andrew Hammel, for doing this. If the public media is going to be derelict in their duty to be objective, the feet need to be held to the fire until they do the right thing.

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