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Ex-detective, DNA expert join Soering’s bid for freedom

(by Lauren Berg, The Daily Progress, September, 27, 2017, Link)
 

A retired Charlottesville police detective and a second DNA expert have joined Jens Soering’s corner as he fights for a pardon from the governor.

Soering, the German national convicted of killing his then-girlfriend’s parents when the two were students at the University of Virginia, has maintained his innocence since his conviction in 1990. He has been denied parole 12 times, and he is up for a 13th parole hearing on Oct. 10.

On March 30, 1985, Derek and Nancy Haysom were killed in their Bedford County home. They were found with dozens of stab wounds, and their throats were cut from ear to ear. Their daughter, Elizabeth, then 20, eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder as an accessory before the fact.

Haysom is currently serving a 90-year prison sentence, but she will receive mandatory parole in 2032, when she will be 68.

In August 2016, local attorney Steven Rosenfield put together a petition for pardon on Soering’s behalf, which gained the support of Albemarle County Sheriff J.E. “Chip” Harding. Using new DNA testing and after consulting with two separate DNA experts, Rosenfield asserts that the case against Soering was based on faulty science.

In 1985, blood found at the crime scene was analyzed. Five bloodstains were found to be type O — the same type as Soering’s blood. Prosecutor Jim Updike told the jury that the finding meant that Soering must have been injured in a knife fight at the scene.

In 2009, as part of a post-conviction review, new DNA testing was done on some of the items collected at the crime scene, Rosenfield said. Of the 43 items with blood samples, just 11 were stable enough to test.

“Of those 11 items, two were found with type O blood, and a DNA scientist reported that Jens Soering was eliminated as a contributor of that blood,” Rosenfield said.

Two DNA experts now have concluded that Soering must be excluded as a contributor of biological material at the scene. New findings by J. Thomas McClintock align with those of Moses Schanfield, who previously was consulted by Rosenfield. The experts also identified blood from two unknown men.

Though Soering initially confessed to the crime after he was arrested in London, he eventually recanted his statement and said he lied to protect Haysom. Although his confession was still used against him in court, investigators on Wednesday said the details he provided about the crime don’t make sense when paired with the physical evidence.

This month, retired Charlottesville Detective Sgt. Richard L. Hudson Jr. submitted a letter of support on behalf of Soering after he spent more than 250 hours looking through police reports and documents, crime scene photos, forensic reports and transcripts of court proceedings. He concluded that Soering would not have been convicted if he were tried today.

“I believe that Jens Soering made some huge errors in judgment,” Hudson wrote. “The false confessions and the run to Europe to try to cover for Elizabeth Haysom are but two. I believe those decisions were made while Soering was being manipulated by Elizabeth Haysom.”

“I have found no evidence to suggest Jens Soering was present at Loose Chippings (the name the Haysoms gave their house) in Bedford County, Va., when Derek and Nancy Haysom were brutally murdered,” he wrote.

Hudson was working at the Charlottesville Police Department in 1985 when the crime occurred. It wasn’t until this year, when Harding asked him to look at the case from a fresh perspective, that he really dove into the details.

Hudson then interviewed Soering, and said his statements were believable. Haysom declined to be interviewed.

“I interviewed him early on from the perspective that he’d made a confession — he was a co-conspirator who made a confession,” said Hudson. “Why should that not be true?”

“What he said made sense,” he said.

Hudson also stressed that there is no biological or physical evidence, such as blood from an injury, to associate Soering with the crime scene.

“If that was the case, we would think it was possible that his genetic material would be there,” Hudson said. “It doesn’t have to be, but there was a ton of genetic evidence there and his was not recovered.”

As an impartial investigator for the petition for pardon, Hudson said he took on the case purely to figure out what happened. He wound up with more questions than answers.

“At the end of the day, I do not believe he would be convicted if he was tried again,” Hudson said. “I don’t think he’d be charged.”

“I think he should be released,” he said. “The evidence they used to convict him was wrong.”

One of the biggest questions for Hudson is the still-unidentified blood samples collected from the crime scene.

“That’s the elephant in the room,” Hudson said. “Who were those men? … I think they’re a danger. Who knows where they might be. They could be in Charlottesville or Bedford or anywhere.”

In a second letter to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Harding also expressed concern about the two men, as well as Bedford County Commonwealth’s Attorney Wes Nance’s disinclination to reopen the investigation.

“Nothing we want to do in the future regarding the finding of the two unknown men should interfere with your decision making regarding Soering, because our work may take a long time and because we are convinced that Soering did not kill the Haysoms and was not present at the time of the murders,” Harding wrote.

A spokeswoman for McAuliffe said Soering’s petition is currently in the review process, but she would not go into detail. She said the office would make an announcement when a decision is made.

Harding said McAuliffe’s office is currently backed up with cases and said he was told a review of Soering’s case would probably begin Sept. 1, but he was not given a projected date of completion.

Bedford County Commonwealth’s Attorney Wes Nance said his office has no active involvement in the investigation, and is not presently looking to reopen the case. Because the case is currently in front of the governor and the Virginia Parole Board, he said, his office will not be getting involved.

“If new evidence comes to light, then we will have to give due diligence,” Nance said. “I appreciate Sheriff Harding’s interest in the case and his diligence.”

The Bedford County Sheriff's Office could not be reached for comment by press time.

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