Yesterday the American daytime talk show “Dr. Phil” broadcast a segment about Jens Söring. Dr. Phil McGraw is a folksy psychologist with a Southern drawl who used to help Oprah Winfrey dissect the psyches of her guests on her talkshow. McGraw then spun off his own popular daytime TV talk show in which he helps guests solve their personal issues. His show is not the sort of sleazy free-for-all in which pregnant 14-year-olds on crack hurl chairs across the studio at their abusive boyfriends, nor does it feature in-depth scholarly analyses of personality theory. You could say it perches right in the middle of middlebrow. Dr. Phil has also developed a sideline in crime and wrongful-conviction stories. I should say I largely admire and support this aspect of Dr. Phil’s show; he’s focused attention on some genuine cases of wrongful conviction.
Of course, Soering’s case isn’t one of them.
Unfortunately the whole show isn’t available from Europe for legal reasons, but four portions of it, focusing mainly on interviews with Söring, can be seen on YouTube here. The segment features at least two interviews with Söring, one of which appears to have been made in prison, since Söring is wearing an orange jumpsuit. The second interview was conducted immediately after Söring landed in Germany on 17 December 2019. We see Söring sitting in an interior with Christmas decorations, dressed in a sweater. Söring describes his joy at being released from prison, and claims he feels almost no resentment at being denied a pardon.
The question is: Why would Dr. Phil recycle an interview done almost 10 months earlier? Thereby, as they say, hangs a tale. The interview was recorded on December 17 or 18th, and the show was going to be broadcast within days. However, at about this time, Team Soering received a letter from a German lawyer hired by Elizabeth Haysom. That letter made it clear that Elizabeth fully intended to protect her reputation rights under law.
This letter terrified Soering, since Soering had accused Elizabeth of killing her parents during the Dr. Phil interview. If those parts were broadcast, could Elizabeth sue for millions? Soering sent a desperate email to the producer of the Dr. Phil show, asking them not to air the show, which had already been promoted and was scheduled to air as soon as possible. Soering also asked that, if the interviews were ever aired, any reference to Elizabeth being the killer or possible killer not be broadcast. The show was then rescheduled for broadcast in March, but that broadcast never happened, perhaps because of Corona.
So now Dr. Phil, perhaps facing a dearth of guests and audience members in Corona times, has reached back into the vault and finally broadcast the segment, some 10 months later. From the excerpts available on YouTube, it appears Dr. Phil complied with Soering’s request to edit out the parts about Elizabeth. Soering gets a few digs in against Elizabeth here and there, but does not explicitly accuse her of the murders.
The show also features interviews with Chip Harding, Jason Flom, and Dr. Andy Griffiths, the British confessions expert. There’s not much new here, but I did want to highlight a few bits of the show. First is this excerpt from what appears to be a prison interview:
Soering says that most false confessions are the product of days-long interrogations and coercion, but not his: “I went in there intending to give a false confession.” But wait, in Soering’s 1995 online book Mortal Thoughts, he writes: “For three days, from June 5 to June 7, I told the detectives as little as possible.” And on March 2, 1990, he testified under oath that he was coerced into confessing by English detective Kenneth Beever’s threat to physically injure Elizabeth. Here is the end of Soering’s direct examination by his lawyer Richard Neaton, found on page 42 of the official court transcript:
So which was it? Did Soering go into the police station “intending to give a false confession”, or was he resolved to “tell the detectives as little as possible” and only confessed to police “[un]willingly”? Both of these statements cannot be true.
The explanation, of course, is that Soering changed his story. After the trial judge found Soering had lied about Beever’s threat and that he confessed voluntarily, Soering abandoned his claim of coercion, and now claims he intended to confess all along.
Fortunately for Dr. Andy Griffiths, the excerpts of his Skype interview from London are fairly anodyne. Here’s an excerpt from Griffiths, with Soering’s reaction:
The first thing we notice is that in Soering’s interview, he refers to reading Dr. Griffiths’ “report”. Yet at the time, December 2019, nobody else could read it, because the Soering team had refused to release it. Only when I leaked the report in June 2020 this year could anyone outside Team Soering finally have a look at it.
As I showed, there was a reason Griffiths wanted the report kept secret, even as he appeared in news conferences and TV shows touting its conclusions: The report is deeply flawed and unconvincing. Griffiths relied primarily on biased pro-Soering sources (including Soering’s own misleading and inconsistent accounts), and simply waved away the glaring problems with Soering’s credibility, mentioning Soering’s perjured accusation against Beever only in one hand-waving footnote.
Soering eagerly leaps on the theory that he confessed “voluntarily” to “protect” a third party, in this case Elizabeth. Yet, as anyone familiar with the case knows, Soering implicated Elizabeth in the murders right away, in his first recorded interview on June 5, 1986. This fact did not escape the attention of the trial judge, William Sweeney, In rejecting Soering’s claims of coercion by Beever, Sweeney held:
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. Further, he has been previously convicted of a crime of moral turpitude which affects his credibility under Virginia law. Additionally, his concerns for Elizabeth Haysom at the time seems strange since he freely implicated her in his early statements to police.
I think that pretty much sums it up.