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.
16 thoughts on “Dr. Phil and the 10-Month-Old Jens Soering Interview”
“If those parts were broadcast, could Elizabeth sue for millions?”
If Soering really believed that, it would have been really funny:
I think we agree that he needn’t to fear this in the U.S.
In Germany it is punishable to accuse someone else falsely with a serious crime. But those cases are often ended by the prosecution for reason of “no public interest”.
A civil case for defamation usually ends with a few hundred Euros;,in rare (high-profile) cases (which Elizabeth is not) with a few thousand.
So: No way for millions of € for Elizabeth !
You’re right, of course. I was just trying to imagine Soering’s panicked reaction.
You largely admire and support Dr. Phil? Name me one factually innocent person Dr. Phil has even brought to anyone’s attention.
Every person I’ve ever seen him stump for is as gulity as a puppy in a pew. And of some of most sickening atrocities it is capable for men to commit.
Sadly, she was badly advised.
Another example of how intolerable a long sentence is when you are innocent.
Not familiar with the case. Though based on the 30 seconds of research I’ve just done, the conclusion I jump to is that it’s a coin-toss as to whether or not she was guilty. At least that’s more often than not the best one can do in these domestic scenarios.
Why do you think she was innocent?
I believe a comment of yours in the thread below must refer to Amber Hilberling. And thank you for explaining why you think she was innocent. A further brief googling on my part seems to suggesy there are a fair number who might disagree with your conclusion. But perhaps you are correct.
I agree there is room for doubt in the Hilberling case.
The police covertly recorded her in an interview room with her grandmother for nearly an hour before coming in to start the interview.
You’re never alone in a police station and don’t even talk to grandma until you have a lawyer.
Dean Cage, among many others. The wrongful-conviction phenomenon is very real, which is why it’s deeply irresponsible for Söring to have tried to piggyback on it. As I wrote on Quillette:
Why is the task of discrediting Soering’s claims important? Because the public has only so much concern and resources it can devote to people who were unjustly convicted. This bandwidth should be channeled to cases which genuinely merit re-investigation. Soering convinced dozens of well-meaning people to waste thousands of hours in a futile quest to prove his innocence. This effort could have been used to advocate for someone who was genuinely innocent—I would cite the inspiring counter-example of the second season of American Public Radio’s In The Dark podcast, which methodically demolished the case against Mississippi death row inmate Curtis Flowers….
Soering also molded his claims to fit the zeitgeist. In the 1990s and early 2000s, exonerations of convicted criminals based on DNA testing showed that American courts had sentenced hundreds of innocent people to long prison terms or even to death. These findings shook the foundations of the American justice system, and sparked calls for reform. Soering tries to piggyback on the main sources of these wrongful convictions: false confessions, oversold forensic evidence, and police intimidation. Soering also benefits from the complexity of his case. To understand why his arguments fail, you’ve got to dive into moldering court files, and who has the time for that?
I’m aware wrongful convictions happen. But they are quite rare. Look at the Innocence Project. The ran out of genuinely innocent people so quickly they had to lower their screening standards for the clients they take on. Or the so-called “Exoneration Registry”. Having millions of cases to chose from, it can’t even come up with a couple thousands actually innocent people to fill their registry. Many of the people on the registry are horribly guilty. Murders, rapists, you name it.
Not familiar with Dean Cage. But I’ll take a look, out of interest.
I do agree that Soering- and not only him, but an ever increasing number of the factually guilty jumping on the bandwagon- are piggybacking on the backs on the few genuinely wrongfully convicted. It puts, me at least, in mind of how various Nazi war criminals slipped out of Germany while getting lost in the crowd of actually innocent war refugees.
The Prosecution offered her a 5 year manslaughter deal but she may have wanted to sue the buildings company.
I think it was just a bit of pushing and shoving, but he was a big fellow compared to her and he stepped on some sort of roller on the floor which helped propel him towards the very sub standard 17th floor windows.
Looks like Dean Cage (who does seem likely innocent) wasn’t on the show until *after* he had been exonerated. My challenge really is to cite anyone who was still officially considered guilty at the time Dr. Fail began advocating for them but was, subsequently, credibly vindicated.
Incidentally, I wonder if you are familiar with the episode on which Dean Cage appeared. And the way in which the man you admire tricked both Mr. Cage and the rape victim in the case into appearing on the same episode. It is to shudder.
“Soering also molded his claims to fit the zeitgeist.”
Is “zeitgeist” american language ? If so, i’d like to hear how Americans pronounce that word !
“Soering also benefits from the complexity of his case.”
Without his fabricated stuff, his case isn’t that complex at all.
As usual, anodyne analysis.
Interesting that EH was so quick out of the blocks and had a german lawyer on tap. Soering will keep the media circus going by trying to fatigue the sceptics.
Anodyne – wrong word. I meant to convey thorough, detailed, to the point and not sensational.
I wish this comment section has a “preview prior to posting” button. I’m usually insufficiently motivated to thoroughly check my posts for typos before I click “submit”. Then, immediately after the click, I often notice that I’ve made a mistake or two that I’d like to take back.
And if not a “Preview” button, at least an “Edit” button would be nice.