Gentle readers, I have something I’d like your help with. It’s pretty simple: I am looking for any public statement by Jens Söring, ever, in which he asks for the evidence in his case to be tested for DNA results.
As most of you know, the state of Virginia, as part of a program (g) it started on its own, tested the evidence in Söring’s case in 2009. Results were inconclusive: they did not place Söring at the crime scene, did not exclude his presence, and did not show any clear evidence of unknown suspect at the crime scene. Söring has argued that this 2009 test proves there were two unknown males at the crime scene, but that theory has been largely debunked.
But that got me thinking: Why did Söring wait for Virginia to do the DNA testing? He could have asked for it himself.
The report I linked to above sketches the history of post-conviction1 DNA testing in Virginia:
Most states now allow for post-conviction DNA testing, which has led to an increase in the number of exonerations nationwide in recent years. Virginia is no exception to this trend. Since 1989, DNA evidence has been a substantial factor in 20 of the 56 total exonerations in Virginia. In 2001, Virginia enacted legislation allowing convicted felons to request court ordered post-conviction DNA testing in their cases. Subsequently, in accordance with this new law, three individuals requested that DFS conduct post-conviction DNA testing on biological evidence retained in its archived case files. Post-conviction DNA testing was ordered and conducted for these cases between 2001 and 2004, which resulted in these three individuals being exonerated of crimes for which they had been wrongfully convicted.
In response to these three exonerations, Governor Mark R. Warner directed DFS in September 2004 to conduct a review of a random sample of ten percent of its archived serology case files to identify cases containing biological evidence related to sex offenses. This resulted in testing of 31 cases and led to three additional wrongfully convicted individuals being exonerated. In 2005, as recommended by DFS [Department of Forensic Science], Governor Warner ordered a full review and DNA testing of biological evidence in the remaining archived case files for all felony crimes against persons.”
You can read that 2001 law here. The relevant bit is this:
“[a]ny person convicted of a felony … may, by motion to the circuit court that entered the original conviction …, apply for a new scientific investigation of any human biological evidence related to the case that resulted in the felony conviction … if (i) the evidence was not known or available at the time the conviction … became final in the circuit court or the evidence was not previously subjected to testing; (ii) the evidence is subject to a chain of custody sufficient to establish that the evidence has not been altered, tampered with, or substituted in any way; (iii) the testing is materially relevant, noncumulative, and necessary and may prove the actual innocence of the convicted person or the person adjudicated delinquent; (iv) the testing requested involves a scientific method generally accepted within the relevant scientific community; and (v) the person convicted … has not unreasonably delayed the filing of the petition after the evidence or the test for the evidence became available.
Stripped of legalese, this law says that any inmate who can show that a reliable new test which emerged after his trial and which might prove his innocence can ask the court to conduct that test. This option has been available to all prison inmates in Virginia since 2001.
The question, therefore, is why Jens Söring didn’t submit such a request. It is inconceivable that he didn’t know about the 2001 law; it was surely one of the main topics of conversation in every prison in Virginia. Every DNA exoneration in Virginia generated intense news coverage. As the law shows, Jens Söring could have submitted the request himself; he didn’t even need a lawyer. Söring was quite capable of representing himself in court; he filed an appeal on his own, without a lawyer (“pro se”) in the early 2000s.
Söring could have filed a request for DNA testing in his case as early as 2001. The evidence would still have been degraded through improper storage, but it would have been eight years fresher than when Virginia tested it in 2009. It might have yielded more definitive results. Yet Söring never filed such a request, to my knowledge.
What’s more, Söring has never publicly called for DNA testing of the evidence in his case, as far as I can tell. He has given many, many interviews since 2001, but I cannot find one in which Jens Söring himself says that he plans to ask for DNA testing in his case, or wants DNA testing to take place. He doesn’t do it in this interview (g, 2016), for instance, or this interview (g, 2011), or this interview (2017), or even this interview (g, 2021), whose title is a quote from Söring: “I Would Like to Prove my Innocence”.
It may well be that some Söring supporters have suggested or demanded a new DNA test of the evidence in Söring’s case. However, that’s very different from Söring suggesting this himself. It’s quite logical for any Söring supporter to wonder whether new DNA testing might help Söring. If the supporter raises the issue with Söring, what is Söring going to say? “No, please don’t ask for DNA testing”? That hardly inspires confidence. Söring may have had to tolerate his supporters suggesting new DNA tests, but this was something Söring had little control over.
As far as I can tell, Söring has never personally requested a DNA test, or confirmed plans to do so in a public interview, or even complained about Bedford County not agreeing to re-test the evidence.
I think we can all imagine why this might be the case.
Of course if you, gentle readers, can find a published source in which he says any of these things, then I will update this post. Seek, and perhaps you shall find!
On an related note, the Pittsburgh company Cybergenetics has developed new DNA analysis techniques that can produce reliable results even from mixed and degraded DNA:
For twenty years, Cybergenetics has been solving complex DNA evidence. Most forensic items are mixtures of two or more people, often in small amounts. Many crime labs can’t get information from these DNA items. They incorrectly call them “inconclusive,” or report a wrong match statistic.
Cybergenetics “unmixes” DNA mixtures. The Pittsburgh company’s TrueAllele technology uses math and computers to find the right answer. A big match number shows that someone left their DNA, while a small statistic (a lot less than one) shows they didn’t. Courts and investigators need match numbers.
Perhaps someone should recommend to Söring that he file a formal request for new testing by Cybergenetics. I bet Söring’s response would be interesting.
- Sorry about the legalese, but this is part of the program’s name and an important concept. When a defendant is convicted of a crime in an American courtroom, he or she is not immediately considered to be finally convicted. This is because the defendant has the right to file an appeal of his conviction, with a state-paid lawyer if necessary. Only after this appeal has been denied is the defendant considered finally convicted. This is the same rule as in Germany: A criminal conviction is only considered final (rechtskräftig) after the defendant loses his appeal, if he chooses to file one.
Thus, Jens Söring’s conviction became “final” in 1991, when his first appeal was denied. All legal action after that point is called “post-conviction”, for the simple reason that it’s happening after the defendant’s conviction has become final. The defendant can still file more appeals, but it gets harder to win them.