In 1985, police arrested 19-year-old Jens Soering, an honors student from the University of Virginia, and charged him with the brutal murder of his girlfriend’s parents in central Virginia.
He was convicted in 1990 on two counts of first-degree murder during a three-week trial that turned into a televised late-night spectacle. He was sentenced to two life terms in prison. He's spent the last 27 years of his life inside the Buckingham Correctional Center maintaining his innocence. Soering was denied parole for the 12th time in March.
The Albemarle County Sheriff and two experts held a press conference about their belief that Jens Soering is innocent.
After spending more than 200 hours on the case, Sheriff Chip Harding released a 19-page report on his re-investigation of the Haysom murders in May, urging Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to grant him an absolute pardon.
"Based on my training and experience, almost every piece of evidence raised by the prosecution is subject to inaccuracies, unreliabilities, and scientific contradictions. The jury was misled in many places, and the lead defense lawyer was mentally ill and later disbarred. The result was that the defense counsel was mediocre at best. The jury was not aware of significant evidence contradicting the prosecution’s case, and the defense failed to raise those contradictions," Harding wrote.
The sheriff's office told WSET it was the first time an active sheriff has written a letter of support to a pardon request.
Falling in Love
In the fall of 1984, Soering enrolled in an honors program at the University of Virginia and met Elizabeth Haysom. They started dating right away, and by December, they were exchanging obsessive love letters that would later lead investigators to their arrest.
On March 30, 1985, Elizabeth’s parents, Derek and Nancy Haysom, were brutally murdered in their retirement cottage in Lynchburg, Virginia.
The Roanoke Times described the gruesome crime scene, “When authorities stepped into the house that day, they found Derek Haysom lying on his left side near the front of the two-story brick and wood home with dozens of stab wounds to his torso, his throat slit, his face disfigured with cuts. In the kitchen lay Nancy Haysom, face down, her throat also cut, with similar stab wounds. Blood stained the floors of the home."
On March 31, Soering says that Elizabeth confessed to the murder, telling him, “I’ve killed my parents, it was the drugs that made me do it, they deserved it, anyway.”
In an interview with WSET he explains why he made the false confession that destroyed his life,
“When she came back to the hotel it was in the early morning hours, around two o'clock in the morning on March 31st 1985. She told me that she had killed her parents. Obviously she asked me to be her alibi. That was her first request and of course and it’s the great mistake of my life. Now I realized that wouldn't work and I then came up with this seemingly brilliant idea to take the rap for her but the only way to do that from her point of view. The only way is if she puts herself before me as the victim who needs help and possibly she could persuade me to help her.”
He says he only confessed because he knew Virginia had the death penalty and he wanted to protect Elizabeth and keep her from the electric chair. He admitted that at the time he mistakenly thought that, as a diplomat's son, he had diplomatic immunity.
A Timeline From Arrest to Conviction
October, 1985 -- Soering and Elizabeth flee to Europe after police question them.
April 1986 -- They are arrested in London on fraud charges for passing bad checks.
June 1986 -- A joint team of American and British investigators interrogates the couple about Haysom murders. Elizabeth was allowed access to an attorney, Soering was not. After being questioned for more than 16 hours over four days, Soering confesses to the crime. He gives a detailed confession but gets several major details wrong including where the bodies were found and what they were wearing.
In a recorded interrogation, he tells investigators that he's willing to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit: "I can see it happening, yes. I think it is a possibility. I think it happens in real life, okay."
Prosecutors in Virginia indict them for first-degree murder.
May 1987 -- Elizabeth returns to the United States. Soering stays in England and fights extradition.
August 1987 -- Elizabeth pleads guilty to first-degree murder as an accessory before the fact. She later testifies in court that she only helped Soering plan the murders, he did the actual killing himself.
October 1987 -- Haysom is sentenced to 90 years in prison.
January 1990 -- Soering is extradited to America. Police discover his foot is half an inch longer than the sock print from the crime scene but the prosecution decides not to inform the defense and instead of using the state lab's analyst and they use Robert Hallett, a former F.B.I. lab tech who's only background was studying tire prints.
June 21, 1990 -- After a three-week trial, a jury convicts Soering of two counts of first degree murder. In a post-trial interview with the University Journal, juror Jake Bibb says that the jury was split 6-6 when deliberations began. They only decided to convict after reviewing Hallett's testimony and exhibits. Click here to read Jake Bibb's affidavit.
September 4, 1990 -- Soering is sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment, to be served consecutively.
March 2009 -- The Virginia Law Review publishes "Invalid Forensic Science Testimony and Wrongful Convictions" by Brandon Garrett and Peter Neufeld. On pages 71 and 72, the authors reveal that Robert Hallett gave misleading testimony about a shoe print in the trial of Charles Fain. He spent 18 years on Idaho's death row before being exonerated through DNA testing. Click here to read the relevant pages of the law review article.
September 24, 2009 -- All 42 blood samples from the Haysom crime scene are tested. None of the 42 are from Soering or Elizabeth. Click here to read the report.
March 21, 2011 -- A new witness comes forward with sworn statement pointing to an alternative suspect. Our affiliate WSET wrote, "Witness Tony Buchanan says what happened at his auto shop not long after Elizabeth Haysom's parents were murdered. Soering and Haysom are both serving time for those killings. But, Buchanan says Haysom was with another man, not Soering, when she picked a car up from his shop. It's a car, he says, that was filled with dried blood. He says he even saw a knife."
June 2016 -- The documentary "The Promise" is released. It features the original lead investigator, Chuck Reid, discussing a crime scene profile produced by FBI Special Agent Ed Sulzbach that the prosecution suppressed for 27 years. Sulzbach's profile concluded that the crime had been committed by a female who knew the Haysoms well. During an interview from the film he says on camera, "I settled on the daughter."
Even if Soering is exonerated, he knows nothing will give him back the life he lost.
“Having lost 25 years of your life and then being released okay that's not a happy ending," he said. "The only way to fix this for me is to put me in a time machine and you know that's not going to happen. I've missed the best years of my life. There are many things that I really, really wanted which I'm never going to have.”