Here’s a few minutes from the recent Söring podcast in which I am quoted and discussed:
Fascinating listening to the attempts of people you’ve never met to discredit you! Also gratifying to learn that the mere mention of my name triggers a full-on response from Team Söring.
The first thing you notice is that Team Söring has been unable to point out a single error in my work on the case (and there surely are some), no matter how trivial.
That’s really all anyone needs to know.
But I should clarify a few points. The comment about me being “money-motivated” earned a chuckle from me. I don’t think Söring or his lawyers understand how journalism works. My total fee from the FAZ for writing almost 30,000 words in three separate articles about the case was well under €1000. Judged by how much effort I put in, that comes out to about…€2.00/hour. I am planning to write a book about the case, and I might make a couple thousand euros by that, but who knows? Team Söring seems surprised that professional writers do in fact like to be paid for their work. If you’re wondering how I earn most of my living, well, just look at the title of this website.
As for threatening, harassing, or trolling: Meh, the work speaks for itself. Well-reasoned critiques based on extensive research…aren’t trolling. I have repeatedly said, in print and speech, that I support Söring’s release, wish him only the best in adjusting to life in Germany, and I meant it. I haven’t said or written anything specific about his current living arrangements in Germany, aside from what’s already known in the press, and have deleted comments to this blog which I felt were inappropriately personal or insulting. I’ve also issued an express warning to all readers not to post anything like that. Heck, I’ve even pointed out the severe credibility problems with one of Sörings accusers. (You’re welcome, Team Söring).
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: When Söring stops saying untrue things about his case and attacking other people’s reputations, I will stop correcting his misstatements and defending those reputations. As for “no significant influence”, I’m pretty much a nobody in general, but my articles about the case in both German and English have been read by tens of thousands of people, and about 100 have reached out to me so far to say the articles changed their minds. I’ve also now been able to prevent publication of several articles and (I think) even a podcast episode which were going to report Söring’s claims uncritically. Not by personally attacking Söring, but by supplying reporters with information, arguments, and documents undermining Söring’s claims.
As for Twitter: I may only have 741 followers, but they’re all special people!
I’ve never threatened anyone with a lawsuit because I have no standing to sue; Söring’s never said anything about me until now (and no, I’m not going to sue based on these comments, because they’re fair game and plus, I dislike lawsuits).
However, I have pointed out that other people, such as Elizabeth Haysom, might have grounds for legal action against Söring for some form of defamation or insult. Was I right? Well, Jens Söring has confirmed on nationwide television that he’s afraid of being sued by Elizabeth Haysom. So, there’s that.
As for John Grisham, as I pointed out before, Grisham said the judge in Söring’s trial, William Sweeney, was a “crony” of the Haysom family in an interview which Grisham knew would be broadcast on German TV. I pointed out to Grisham that this could well be grounds for legal action in Germany, and possibly even the United States. Grisham’s use of the negative, loaded word “crony” accuses the judge of having some sort of shady or illicit connection to the Haysom family, and further clearly implies that the judge illegally/improperly presided over the trial despite having a bias which he knew should have disqualified him.
Could that be grounds for defamation? Well, Virginia law states this:
“Defamation” is “the offense of injuring a person’s character, fame, or reputation by false and malicious statements; the term seems to include both libel and slander.” To state a claim for defamation under Virginia law, a plaintiff “must show (1) publication, (2) of an actionable statement with (3) the requisite intent.” “To be ‘actionable,’ the statement must not only be false, but defamatory, that is, it must ‘tend so to harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him.’”
Stated differently, “merely offensive or unpleasant statements” are not defamatory; rather, defamatory statements “are those that make the plaintiff appear odious, infamous, or ridiculous.”
Every law student learns that false statements about a person’s professional reputation are especially likely to be found defamatory and harmful, since they affect the person’s ability “to earn a living“.
Grisham’s statement could be seen as defamatory for several reasons. First of all, it implies some sort of secrecy or shady dealings by the judge. Yet Judge Sweeney spoke openly in court concerning his knowledge of the Haysoms during a lengthy hearing held on 7 February 1990 devoted specifically to the question of his possible bias. Judge Sweeney said he had gone to college with Risque Benedict in the late 1940s, and had seen him a few times in social situations since then. Nobody has ever challenged the judge’s account.
The judge decided a series of superficial social contacts over decades did not disqualify him from presiding over the case, and his judgment was explicitly endorsed by the Virginia Court of Appeals, which reviewed the record and found as follows:
In regard to the trial judge’s connection with Risque Benedict, brother of one of the victims, evidence that the trial judge and victim’s brother attended the same high school and college over forty-three years ago, and that there had been infrequent casual social contact between them since that time, did not establish bias, prejudice, or the appearance of impropriety.
I think, under these circumstances, there is an arguable case for defamation of the judge under Virginia and/or German law, and I told Grisham so. Whether a jury would find defamation based on these facts, or whether Grisham could successfully defend himself, is anybody’s guess. Most common-law jurisdictions say you can’t defame dead people, and Sweeney died in 2017. However, under German law, persons are considered to have a right to protect their reputations even after they’re dead (g) — and Grisham knew that his statements were going to be broadcast in Germany.
All legalities aside, I consider it unsporting of him to attack Sweeney’s reputation after the judge could no longer defend himself. Grisham, of course, never responded to me. The rule inside Team Söring is that nobody interacts with Andrew Hammel for any reason. Further, Grisham has remained deafeningly silent as Söring’s innocence claims have begun to collapse very publicly. Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear what Grisham thinks now that all the alternate suspects have been eliminated? And to know what he thinks about the Wright report?
Alas, we’ve surely heard the last from John Grisham about the case of Jens Söring. Grisham likely finds his decision to accept Söring’s story without checking the facts embarrassing, and wants to put it all behind him. Just for fun, however, I hereby offer another “friendly challenge” like the one I offered to Small Town, Big Crime. I hereby offer to debate John Grisham or anybody from Team Söring in an open, public, no-holds-barred Zoom debate on the subject of Söring’s innocence claims. I’ll even be happy to share my large trove of information on the case with Grisham to help him prepare.
My inbox is waiting!