Here’s another excerpt from Söring’s book (pp. 171-72, my quick translation):
I am aware that most people wave it away wearily when a convicted double murderer complains about the injustice of the system. Nevertheless, I often talk to Germans about the subject, because I have had the experience that most of my compatriots do not know how the legal system works in the USA in general and in Virginia in particular. When I then explain it on the basis of my case, they are amazed to the point of disbelief that such conditions can exist in a highly developed Western democracy.
Remember — because I was convicted, the entire American justice system is corrupt.
What stunned them most was the very selection of the judge who presided over my trial. William Sweeney was the man’s name, he had been friends with the brother of the murdered Nancy Haysom for forty years and greeted him in the courtroom by his first name. He had also met both victims at a party when they moved to Bedford County in the early 1980s. Under the eyes of his childhood friend, [Judge Sweeney] was now supposed to determine ex officio whether the victims had raised their murderess themselves or whether the evil had come into their house through the stranger. It was in his hands to decide whether after the terrible deaths of two people also the disgrace of parents being murdered by their child would be brought upon the family. When my defense attorney filed a motion to recuse, Sweeney denied it.
I have already refuted this claim on this blog over and over, but let’s go back one more time briefly. Richard Neaton filed a motion to disqualify the judge based on the judge’s relationship with Risque Benedict, the brother of murder victim Nancy Haysom. On February 7, 1990, judge Sweeney conducted a hearing on the defense’s motion to disqualify him for bias. For the first 54 pages of the hearing, defense counsel, prosecutor Jim Updike, and the judge addressed the legal precedents on judicial disqualification, including Stamper v. Commonwealth, Deahl v. Winchester Dept. of Social Services, and Stockton v. Commonwealth.
After this lengthy legal back and forth, the judge gave sworn testimony as an officer of the court as follows, beginning on page 54 of the trial transcript:
All right, thank you, Mr. Neaton. I don’t really have any prepared comments, so the statement that I make is based on my best recollection. I could be wrong in some of these recollections, but have no hesitation at alI in disclosing my connections here…. as far as my connection with the victim’s family, I did know Risque Benedict, who is a brother of Nancy. He did go to VMI two years, but didn’t graduate with me. Risque and I have never discussed this case. I think he’s made a particular point of not discussing it with me, and I have. Risque has not lived in this state a great deal of the time, I think now he’s in California, and I expect I may have seen him four or five times since graduation, I’m not sure, but he’s not someone I see on a regular basis. I think a lot of him, but he’s not a very, very close personal friend, but certainly I know Risque Benedict and I would not deny that.
I knew Nancy Haysom mainly because of Risque. The statement in the defense allegation that I was a close friend of the Haysoms is simply not true; I was not, as anybody in this area who knows anything about it knows. I have never been in the home of — the Haysom home. I did attend a fairly large dinner party, as I recall, on one occasion at Mrs. Abbott’s, and I really do not recall ever seeing Elizabeth or Jens Soering, ever.
Now it may be that they were there, it may be that they were somewhere where I was, but I really don’t remember it. I could not describe either one of them, and I’m sure I would not have recognized either one had they come into the room, because I didn’t know them. I only met Derek Haysom that one occasion to my knowledge, and that was at the party which has been mentioned at the Abotts’; that’s the only time I ever met him.
The Haysoms have never been in our house for any social engagements and we were never in theirs. I’m trying to think of anything else. But it did give me some concern prior to the Haysom case, because I’m not a complete stranger to the victim’s family and it gives me some concern now, Mr. Neaton, and I might say that I respect your right to file the motion that you have filed. I’m professional enough not to have any malice toward you or the defendant because of it. I’ve been on the bench about 24 years, I guess, and I think I have developed the capacity to not have feelings of that kind, I hope I have.
I must admit, though, that there have been some times here this morning when I felt that I was on trial, rather than Mr. Soering. You know, judges don’t get to testify, we just have to take it sometimes, but that’s a part of the job, and I would not be making these statements, except I think it’s necessary to make these statements in view of the defense counsel’s request that I do. But I think that’s it, clearly and simply.
Now I think you have raised some serious questions about recusal, Mr.
Neaton, and I think they deserve serious consideration on my part. I cannot rule on this matter today from the bench, I need to go back and give this matter some serious mature thought. I need to read some of these cases that have been cited to me, because it’s a question of law as much as a question of my own conscience . And I’m not real sure how I will decide on this.
The judge then went on to discuss how his recusal, if he decided to recuse himself, might affect Soering’s right to a speedy trial.
Here we see the cynical, calculating face of a corrupt judge scheming to deprive Söring of any chance at justice. Right?
Ultimately, after reading the above cases, Judge Sweeney decided that under Virginia law, he was not obliged to disqualify himself, because he did not have a close personal relationship with any of the trial parties. He had met the victims only once, fleetingly, at a party. His relationship with Risque Benedict encompassed meeting him only “four or five times” over a period of 41 years: From 1949, when he graduated from VMI, to 1990, the time of the trial. 41 years. Sweeney’s decision was later upheld on appeal by judges who read the record and found no evidence of bias.
Söring was represented for decades by skilled and aggressive lawyers who called every aspect of this conviction into question. These lawyers were joined later by a small army of investigators. None of these people has the slightest hesitation in criticizing the Virginia justice system. All of them wanted to overturn the conviction of Jens Söring, and proving that Judge Sweeney gave false or misleading evidence about his knowledge of the Haysoms would have immediately led to Söring’s conviction being overturned. Instantly.
Over 30 years, during which all of these people tried to find out anything which would disprove Judge Sweeney’s sworn testimony, they found nothing.
Judge Sweeney was permitted by Virginia law to make the first decision about whether he should recuse himself — a decision which he knew would be scrutinized on appeal. He decided that he was not obliged to recuse himself, because the facts did not warrant it. He was not a family friend of the Haysoms. His decision was upheld on appeal. Sweeney’s judicial career was by all accounts free of any major scandal.
Why Söring is still attacking this man, by all accounts an upright and honorable judge, four years after Judge Sweeney’s death?