A few days ago the Spiegel printed yet another interview (g) with Jens Söring. Since I am unfortunately still the only point person in Germany with a critical take on Söring, I thought I’d respond quickly.
Accompanied by a picture of him relaxing on a park bench in Hamburg, the interview was mainly about Söring’s life plans after returning to Germany. As I’ve said before, I have no interest in his private life except to wish him well. I’m glad he’s living in freedom now; everyone should get a second chance after a long prison term. The overall impression of the interview is that he seems to be settling into life in Hamburg pretty well, thanks to the generous family which took him in. That’s fine news.
One line of the interview, however, jumped out at me: “He also wants to tell law students about his experiences with the U.S. justice system and the penal system, and he is already in talks with a faculty.”
If this goes forward, it would be pedagogical malpractice. Over the past 30 years, no single individual has done more to propagate distortions and falsehoods about the American criminal justice system among Germans than Jens Söring. Almost everything he says about his case is at the very least misleading, and often provably false. Inviting Jens Söring to talk about the American criminal justice system would be like inviting the Wirecard corporate leadership to lecture about corporate responsibility, or Claas Relotius to lecture about journalistic ethics.
For Söring to tour German law schools, of all places, to spread false information about the American justice system without any pushback or context would be a major scandal. I will do everything in my power to stop this happening. I will of course insist that the law school also invite me, or someone with comparable insider knowledge, to refute his distortions and lies, and give that person equal time. That is the very least they must do. If Söring is allowed to speak at a law school without a contrary perspective, I will of course inform the US Embassy of this fact, and then personally travel to whichever law school and protest, with media in tow. I will do my best to make sure as many Germans and Americans and Brits as possible know what that law school has chosen to do. If you are the professor who is thinking of inviting Söring and you’re reading this, please get in touch with me. If you allow Söring to talk about his case without context or challenge, this would be a terrible decision which will cause blowback on two continents, and damage to the reputation of your law school. If you know which law school is contemplating this action, please send me an email.
Of course, my observations above only relate to Söring’s comments about his guilt and the legal case against him. If Söring wants to talk about prison conditions or his general views on the USA, that’s fine. But why would that be of interest to law students? If he’s going to speak at a law school, it is inevitable that he will start talking about his case. And he must not be allowed to do that without informed and constructive debate about what he has said.
This plan of Söring’s was the headline for me. However, the rest of the interview is interesting. These are the parts which refer to Söring’s innocence claims. I’ll briefly fisk them, although there’s really not much there:
Freedom and justice, he said, were his goals that gave him strength in prison and later. “Freedom I have now, justice I don’t,” Söring says. He is considered a legally convicted double murderer, all legal remedies have been exhausted. “It’s terrible that I can’t prove my innocence.” For someone with his urge to control things, that must be hard to bear.
This is Söring’s newest rhetorical strategy. I won’t call it a story change, because it’s actually sort of a non-story. He has finally accepted that his arguments are insufficient to dislodge the mountain of evidence against him. He and his team of prominent supporters gave it their best and fell short. Perhaps Söring is beginning to reconcile himself to the truth, inch by inch, while trying to save face all the way. Who knows?
Shortly after his release, it was clear how important it was for Jens Söring to convince conversation partners that he was a victim of a miscarriage of justice, an honest person.
He could not understand that the journalists were neither then nor now concerned with the question of his guilt, but with how he was coping with his fate. “By now I can live with the fact that people have very individual opinions,” says Söring, “even about me.”
This is also good news, I think. The work of myself and others on the Söring Truth Squad has begun to sink in. German journalists now know there is a well-founded and convincing critique of Söring’s claims out there that anyone can access and read. Even if they wanted to write a puff-piece about Söring as victim, they know it will immediately be challenged. This is the corrective of public debate in action! Jürgen Habermas, are you reading this?
Jens Söring likes to talk about people like [Chuck] Reid [former Bedford country investigator who now supports him], people who see him as a victim.
Nothing to add to this. Note, though, that the authors are demonstrating journalistic distance, a key new development.
The father stopped making payments for the imprisoned son and also refused to support him in a prison transfer application in 2008. Söring does not want to reveal the source of the quarrel. He says he has since come to terms with his family’s behavior.
One doesn’t believe him on this point.
This is fairly minor point, but Der Spiegel should have done better research. Jens Söring has spoken publicly about why he broke off contact with his family (or they him, it’s not clear), I believe either on the Jason Flom podcast or the Small Town, Big Crime podcast: Söring thought his family had cheated him out of an inheritance. One of his grandmothers had died, and Söring said his family basically “helped themselves” to his share of the inheritance using what he claimed were dubious legal means. Is this true? We can’t know, since the only source is Söring. But the authors of the article could have done their research to find out what Söring has publicly said about this issue before.
What he says now he has already described many times, the sentences sound rehearsed. Out of love he took the blame on himself at that time. “Why did I go to prison?” he cries, leaning forward. “Because I wanted to help a person, in an incredibly stupid way.
Of course there was ego involved, I wanted to play the hero.”
These are the meager remains of his innocence claims. He used to be able to fill out this bare statement with many misleading arguments and falsehoods, but since he now knows they will be challenged, either he or the reporters left them out.
His trial was one of the first to be broadcast live on television.
A young man in a dark suit and thick glasses could be seen grinning haughtily, sure of himself, as if the proceedings were none of his business. “The prosecutor was a gifted lawyer,” Söring says. “He made me look like an arrogant, spoiled diplomat’s son.” An impression Söring is ashamed of to this day. He is “sensitive,” he says, to being called “arrogant or spoiled” today. “I’ve been hated very intensely in my life,” he says in a firm voice. “I want to be liked,” he says, barely audible.
Söring didn’t make a poor impression on courtroom spectators because of prosecutor Jim Updike. He made a poor impression on courtroom spectators because, well, he actually did come across as an arrogant, spoiled diplomat’s son. This was nobody’s fault but Jens Söring’s. The jury did not find him guilty because they disliked him. They found him guilty mainly because his confessions were detailed and accurate, his new story was unconvincing, and his presence at the crime scene was weakly, but sufficiently, corroborated by blood and sockprint evidence, as well as his statements in the confessions, in which, for instance, he correctly identified which bathroom he cleaned up in and spoke of returning to the house in his bloody socks to search for the front-porch light switch.
The fight for a pardon, which the U.S. state of Virginia never issued him, seems to have taken a back seat, and Söring says: His chance to give meaning to his lost 33 years by helping others was more important to him, he said, “than proving to the very last German that it wasn’t me….
Söring met [Amanda] Knox in 2018 when she presented his case for a podcast series. Knox had told him the docu-series could help him if he behaved as she had: “Going on the offensive with the truth”.
Overall, this was a much better journalistic performance. The authors showed journalistic distance toward Söring, treating him as a person who claims to be a victim of a miscarriage of justice, rather than a person who is a victim of a miscarriage of justice. The article contains no real defamatory or inaccurate statements. Either Söring has decided to stop attacking the reputations of the people who proved him guilty, or Der Spiegel chose not to reproduce them. Either way, this is one of those rare interviews with Söring which doesn’t contain some baseless attack on someone whom Söring resents for putting him behind bars or challenging his story.
This strikes me as a sign of progress in the German press’ handling of this case. Slowly but surely, German journalists are beginning to understand there’s much more to the case than what Söring says. If only they’d begun thinking this way decades ago.