Kaine seeks to send convicted killer Jens Soering to German prison
(by Michael Sluss and Laurence Hammack, The Roanoke Times, January 15, 2010)
RICHMOND -- Gov. Tim Kaine has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to approve the transfer of Jens Soering - who is serving two life sentences for the 1985 murders of a Bedford County couple - to a prison in his native Germany.
Kaine, who leaves office Saturday, approved the transfer request by Soering’s attorney this week after earlier denying a clemency petition from the former University of Virginia honor student. Soering, the son of a retired German diplomat, received consecutive life sentences for the stabbing deaths of his girlfriend’s parents in their Boonsboro home. The case attracted international media attention and Soering has maintained his innocence nearly a quarter century after the murders.
Under terms of the transfer agreement, Soering would remain in a German prison for at least two years before being eligible for release, Kaine spokesman Gordon Hickey said. Soering has been eligible for parole in Virginia, but he has been denied.
Hickey said the transfer request from Soering’s attorney “didn’t come until very recently” and that Kaine did not make his decision lightly. Kaine sent his authorization to the Justice Department on Tuesday, a necessary step for Soering to be transferred under terms of an international treaty.
“The governor was very careful about this,” Hickey said today, which was Kaine’s final full day in office. Republican Bob McDonnell will be sworn in as governor Saturday. A McDonnell spokeswoman said the incoming governor was not consulted about Soering’s transfer request.
Attorney General-elect Ken Cuccinelli criticized Kaine’s decision, saying Soering “committed his crimes against the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia , and he should serve his time in the penitentiaries of the Commonwealth and subject to our parole system.”
“While Gov. Kaine appears to have the authority take this action, I am disappointed that he would exercise that authority in this way,” Cuccinelli said in a statement Friday evening. “We hope the Department of Justice will not approve the transfer and Soering will serve his sentence in the Commonwealth.”
Gail Marshall, Soering’s appeals attorney, said the terms of the treaty appear to give Soering a strong chance of having the transfer approved by the Justice Department, although she stopped short of calling it a formality.
“I’m sure they will thoroughly research the matter, but I believe it is a very favorable decision for Jens, and I would hope there wouldn’t be any delays or any problems as they do this,” she said.
“I’m thrilled, and I’m sure he’s thrilled,” Marshall said of Kaine’s decision.
Because Soering is a state prisoner, the Department of Justice needed the approval of both the governor and the German government before it could consider the case. Officials in Germany — where Soering in all likelihood would have been released already had he been convicted there — have already agreed to his transfer, Marshall said.
Soering and his then-girlfriend, Elizabeth Haysom, gained international attention when they fled to Europe after the murders of Derek and Nancy Haysom. They were arrested in London and returned to Virginia, where both were convicted for their roles in the killings.
Elizabeth Haysom pleaded guilty as an accessory to the murders in 1987 and is serving a 90-year prison sentence. Soering has said that he initially confessed to the murders so that Elizabeth Haysom would be spared the death penalty. His conviction was based largely on his confession and his former girlfriend’s testimony against him.
Under Germany’s correctional system, which places a high emphasis on rehabilitation, even the most serious cases usually result in a term of no more than 10 years, Marshall said. Soering, who is currently being held in the Buckingham Correctional Center, has been locked up for 23 years now.
Although Soering’s father is a retired German diplomat, Marshall said she did not think that played a role in Kaine’s decision.
“It’s a brave thing, and I think he did the right thing, and I’m very appreciative and grateful,” she said.