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

A Perceptive Comment from Rick Blaine on ‘Allmystery’

One amusing corner of the Internet for Söring fans is the site Allmystery is a throwback to the Internet of the early 2000s: an Internet messaging board. Like fax machines, all sorts of antique technologies live on in Germany. There have been something like 28,000 posts about the Söring case, almost all in German, on this board. Most of them are pointless speculation and gossip, but there are occasionally posts from people who have interesting information or perspectives. Just to defuse any speculation up-front: I have never posted on allmystery — sorry to disappoint you.

But there is a guy who posts there called “Rick Blaine”, who, as far as I can tell, claims to be an American criminal defense attorney, and who speaks and writes pretty good German. That’s quite an odd combination, but you never know who you’re going to run into in the eldritch twilit world of Söring-case aficionados.

Blaine has this (g) to say about my previous post on Elizabeth Haysom’s testimony (my translation, German original below):

Hammel makes an interesting point here, which allows the outside observer to better understand Elizabeth as a person. Her behavior is, I say this from the point of view of a defense lawyer, not very unusual at all. Elizabeth was confronted with serious charges for a young woman with no criminal record, and faced a frankly inconceivable future: possible life imprisonment or even worse. Further, she had to face this on her own. She resorted to what seemed the most promising strategy, confessing. But did she really understand the implications of her decision?

You have to imagine it from her perspective: she is in prison, cut off from her normal social environment. The crime has also separated and alienated her from her family, the typical and customary support base. Her lover threw her under the bus (as we say here) as soon as he could with his statements. She must have felt very alone at that moment, now faces the quite terrifying power of the state, which can destroy her life.

Her defenders are the only ones who are on her side in this situation, they have to explain the legally possible alternatives to her. She has a choice: admit nothing and risk a trial, or make a confession and thus escape the trial, but face a sentencing decision which is in the judge’s hands. This is always a very difficult decision, especially when the defender then stresses to the client: You have to decide this on your own. Clients often ask me what they should do at this point, but that is wrong: nobody can take the decision – and thus also the responsibility for the consequences – away from them. This is a very difficult situation.

She made her decision. She was not offered a “deal”, as has often been wrongly claimed in this forum. She was now at the mercy of the judge for better or worse, so to speak. Her defenders will have explained to her that her confession would nevertheless be accompanied by a judicial hearing in which the facts must be presented. I suspect she may not have really expected that. Maybe she was hoping to escape all this.

And then something happens which is fairly common, understandable, and which has happened in many cases besides Elizabeth’s: despite the confession, she tries to minimize her personal guilt. Even though she confessed.

I’ve seen that before. It is one thing to say “I confess”. It’s quite another to have to exhaustively describe your guiltly conduct in a long, public hearing in the courtroom, making it visible to everybody. Quite often, instinctively, people try to put themselves in the best light and sometimes even try to withdraw the confession. The prosecution, of course, cannot accept this. But it’s understandable as a matter of human nature.

And in the end, she stuck to her confession and her willingness to accept the legal consequences. That’s the difference from the perpetrator in this case.

Blaine is correct here; Elizabeth Haysom’s motivations are complex and contradictory, which is a very common situation in the legal system. Further, she was testifying in a courtroom filled with her own family members and close friends — and her testimony was being televised. It’s one thing to speak to an experienced detective in a small room; it’s quite another to speak in public before rolling cameras to dozens of people who know you intimately — about a horrifying crime you committed which hurt them profoundly.

This is just one reason why the constant harping on Elizabeth Haysom by Team Söring is so off-base. They portray her as some kind of super-sophisticated femme fatale, but anyone can see that’s nonsense. If Elizabeth were truly the brilliant 4-dimensional strategist Söring makes her out to be, she wouldn’t have, you know, spent 33 years of her life in prison.

Original Rick Blaine comment in German:

Hammel bringt hier einen interessanten Punkt ein, der den aussenstehenden Betrachter endlich die Person Elizabeth besser verstehen lässt. Ihr Verhalten ist, das sage ich aus der Sicht eines Strafverteidigers, gar nicht so ungewöhnlich. Konfrontiert mit der für eine junge und bis dahin unbescholtehne Frau massiven Anklage, mit der für einen Menschen in ihrer Situation unbegreiflichen Konsequenz: möglicher lebenslänglicher Gefängnisstrafe oder gar schlimmer, und ganz auf sich allein gestellt, greift sie zu dem anscheinend aussichtsreichsten Mittel und gesteht. Aber hat sie wirklich die Tragweite ihrer Entscheidung verstanden?

Man muss sich das mal aus ihrer Sicht vorstellen: sie ist im Gefängnis, abgeschnitten von ihrer normalen sozialen Umgebung. Die Tat hat sie auch von ihrer Familie, der typischen und normalen Unterstützungsbasis getrennt und entfremdet. Ihr lover hat sie, so bald er konnte, mit seinen Aussagen vor den Bus geworfen, wie wir hier sagen. Sie wird sich in dem Moment sehr allein gefühlt haben und steht nun der durchaus furchterregenden Macht des Staates gegenüber, die ihr Leben zerstören kann.

Sie hat ein Verteidigerteam, das sind die einzigen, die in dieser Situation auf ihrer Seite stehen, die müssen ihr die rechtlich möglichen Alternativen erklären. Sie hat die Wahl: nichts zugeben und einen Prozess riskieren, ein Geständnis ablegen und damit dem Prozess entgehen, ein Strafmass kalkulieren, das aber immer noch in den Händen des Richters liegt und so weiter. Das ist immer ein sehr schwerer Punkt, vor allem wenn der Verteidiger dann deutlich macht: Sie muss entscheiden. Mandanten fragen mich dann oft, was sie tun sollen, aber das ist falsch: niemand kann ihnen die Entscheidung und damit auch die Verantwortung für die Folgen abnehmen. Das ist eine sehr schwere Situation.

Sie hat sich entschieden. Obwohl ihr nicht einmal ein “deal” angeboten wurde, wie hier ja ganz oft falsch behauptet worden ist. Sie war nun sozusagen dem Richter auf Gedeih und Verderb ausgeliefert. Ihre Verteidiger werden ihr erklärt haben, dass zu dem Geständnis dennoch eine richterliche Anhörung gehört, in der die Fakten dargelegt werden müssen. Ich vermute, damit hat sie nicht unbedingt gerechnet. Vielleicht hatte sie gehofft, all dem entgehen zu können.

Und dann passiert etwas, was gar nicht so selten ist, eher natürlich und keinesfalls nur bei Elizabeth passiert ist: während der Anhörung, trotz des Geständnisses, versucht sie ihre persönliche Schuld kleinzureden. Obwohl sie ja gestanden hat.

Das habe ich schon oft gesehen. Es ist die eine Sache mit einem Wort zu sagen “ich gestehe” oder in langer, öffentlicher Anhörung im Gerichtssaal seine ganze Schuld ausbreiten und für alle Menschen sichtbar darlegen zu müssen. Da wird ganz oft instinktiv doch wieder versucht, sich ins beste Licht zu rücken und teilweise das Geständnis wieder zurückzunehmen. Natürlich kann die Staatsanwaltschaft das nicht akzeptieren. Aber es ist menschlich verständlich.

Und am Ende blieb sie bei ihrem Geständnis und ihrer Bereitschaft, die juristischen Folgen auf sich zu nehmen. Das ist der Unterschied zu dem Täter in diesem Fall.

11 thoughts on “A Perceptive Comment from Rick Blaine on ‘Allmystery’”

  1. I believe plea bargaining exists in Virginia. So why would Elizabeth Haysom both confess and then testify against Soering without receiving any consideration from the prosecution in return? She was represented by an attorney, wasn’t she? At a minimum, her attorney must have at least attempted to negotiate a deal in return for all her cooperation.

    Otherwise something’s not adding up here.

    1. Plea bargaining exists everywhere, whether the legal system recognizes it officially or not. The situation before Haysom’s trial was murky, with a lawyer supposedly claiming to represent (Steven Rosenfield, ironically now Söring’s lawyer) her allegedly trying to bargain or sell her cooperation to various parties.

      It’s impossible to get a clear picture of all this jockeying because some of the records were sealed and attorney-client privilege comes into play. Of course her defense lawyers surely advised her to seek a deal. But defense lawyers don’t have the final say — the client and the prosecution do. If the client says: I don’t want a deal, there will be no deal. If the prosecution says I’m not offering a deal, there will be no deal. If the prosecution is certain it can get a conviction, it will not offer a deal. At that point, the only choice for the defendant is whether to demand a trial anyway, or just plead guilty and throw yourself on the mercy of the court.

      But at the end of the day, she indeed pleaded guilty in 1987 without an on-the-record sentencing recommendation from the prosecution. There was, thus, no deal. Was that strange? Of course it was strange! That’s why it attracted so much attention!

      Team Söring constantly claims there was a deal, but when you dig down you find out it’s all rumors and speculation. There may well have been an understanding that Jim Updike would assist Elizabeth’s parole applications if she testified against Söring, and he in fact did so. But that’s an informal, conditional understanding, not a deal. And there was nothing even remotely improper about it.

  2. And Updike said that she helped him shape his case.
    She was visibly shocked at the sentence.
    Was she stitched up?

    1. Andrew, I think you should stop your blog now (if you don’t want to just promote your planned publication). There was guilt, sentence, parole. 30+ years! Isn’t it enough? Please guys, have mercy now.

      1. I concur with DILBI. Nothing new, just re-hashing of things already known. Your campaign to influence the public perception is a fight you can’t win. You are just too unimportant and unknown in the scheme of things. Most people really don’t care one way the other.

      2. “Your campaign to influence the public perception is a fight you can’t win.” My inbox and Twitter DMs tell a very different story.

        “Most people really don’t care one way the other.” The people who read this blog (more every day) do.

      3. The blog is a vital and important tool for correcting Soering’s continuous public unproven innocence claims. “I’m innocent. She did it. I’m innocent. I don’t know who did it.” Remember, he is a convicted double murderer who has shown no mercy with his accomplice, Elizabeth Haysom; who has shown no remorse for the brutal killing of Nancy and Derek Haysom; who has blamed lots of people in the process, some of whom can’t defend themselves because they’re dead. The Haysoms’ lives mattered too.

      4. As I’ve said many times, if Söring stops making false claims about the case, I will happily stop correcting those false claims. But he isn’t. How do I know this? Because, as I’ve pointed out here, in August of 2020, one of the main public-broadcasting channels in Germany will broadcast six hours of a documentary which explicitly takes Söring’s side and presents his claims uncritically. The average viewership of this channel is 300,000 people.

        Söring right now is in the middle of a press campaign in Germany to clear his name, and the only way he can do this is to raise old, long-discredited claims. But neither Söring nor the documentary will explain to viewers that these claims are old and long-discredited. Currently, only I am doing this.

        So I will continue blogging about Söring, as long as misinformation about Söring and his case are being broadcast to large audiences of unsuspecting people who aren’t aware of the factual background of the case. It’s a vital corrective.

  3. So, Soring murdered the Haysoms, tried to pin it on his girlfriend and continues to perpetuate his claims of innocence using every means of mass media that he can.
    And he continues to try and cast aspersions about Elizabeth Haysom using any legal means possible.
    And he should be allowed to go unchallenged?
    I have followed this case for years and years, scratching my head, trying to make sense of it, without realising I was being fed one sided propoganda.
    The only counter balance was my own observations of Soring’s behaviour and body language which aroused my suspicions, but which couldn’t outweigh his extremely plausible explanations.
    At long last there is a meticulous rebuttal, started by Holdsworth and followed up here, based on the facts, not retrofitted explanations which don’t fit the facts.
    Good luck if Mr Hammel plans to publish a book. He has certainly invested enough time, why wouldn’t he?
    It will be nice at last to see on the book shelves one publication which is based on the true facts.

  4. After much persuasion by her lawyers Elizabeth eventually decided to plead guilty to accessory before the fact rather than the prosecution charge of first degree murder.
    Judge Sweeney was amazed but Updike had long given up thinking he could prove she was at Loose Chippings or had participated in the murders and it made no difference to him.
    Could she have instead pleaded not guilty to first degree murder and got off?
    Or didn’t Updike need to prove she was there or had participated in the murders to secure a conviction for first degree murder?
    Would she have been convicted under the law of joint enterprise?
    I suppose a big difference between the two charges is that one has the possibility of parole and the other doesn’t?

  5. Ok, reread this, so she could have been convicted of 1st degree but not as the principal and therefore 20 years to life but not death. Same as accessory before the fact

    In a 1980 decision called Briley v. Commonwealth, the Virginia Supreme Court  held that “only the person who is the immediate perpetrator may be a principal in the first degree and thus liable to conviction for capital murder…. Thus, in order to convict [the] defendant of capital murder, the jury [is] required to find that he actually fired the fatal shot.”

    The point her lawyers wanted to make to her family and friends was that she was not at Loose Chippings.

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