Sheriff supports freedom bid for Soering in 1985 murders
Albemarle official who reviewed case urges governor to consider pardon
Albemarle County Sheriff J.E. “Chip” Harding is supporting a bid for freedom for Jens Soering, a German national convicted of the 1985 murders of his girlfriend’s parents in Bedford County.
And a new report from an expert requested by Soering’s lawyer questions the work done by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science in 2009, which subjected evidence recovered from the bloody crime scene to DNA testing not available at the time of the murders.
In a case that has generated national and international attention for decades — recently a German film and an American book — Soering has a pardon request pending before Gov. Terry McAuliffe based in part on the DNA test results.
Reached by telephone Tuesday, Harding said, “I would hope (McAuliffe)
would at least consider a conditional pardon and let him go back to Germany.”
In his 19-page letter to McAuliffe, Harding said that after spending 200 hours as a volunteer looking into the case he concluded, “In my opinion, Jens Soering would not be convicted if the case were tried today, and the evidence appears to support a case for innocence.”
Soering was convicted of the murders of Derek and Nancy Haysom at the behest of their daughter — his girlfriend and fellow University of Virginia scholarship student Elizabeth Haysom. Both were convicted of the murders. Soering initially confessed but later said he did so falsely to protect Haysom.
The governor’s office confirmed there is a pending pardon request but would not comment further.
In 2009, DNA testing by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science identified DNA profiles in 11 items recovered inside the Haysoms’ house but failed to find Soering’s or Elizabeth Haysom’s DNA.
Then last year, Soering and his lawyer, Steven Rosenfield of Charlottesville, announced that two of the items that yielded DNA results were Type O blood stains.
Soering has Type O blood but the three Haysoms do not. The prosecutor argued to the jury during the trial that the Type O blood at the scene was evidence Soering was the killer.
Rosenfield and Soering said last year that the 2009 test results meant the only way Soering was guilty was if he had a male accomplice with Type O blood, an accomplice Soering has inexplicably protected for decades.
The 2009 Department of Forensic Science report said the male DNA found in the two Type O stains was consistent with the male DNA found in six Type A stains — Derek Haysom was Type A — and that the DNA all “originated from a common male contributor.”
Betty Layne DesPortes, a Richmond lawyer and president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch last year that since one person cannot have two different blood types, the Department of Forensic Science results indicated something was amiss, possibly contamination.
However, a report dated Monday by Moses Schanfield, a DNA expert on the faculty at George Washington University, concludes that the state report was misleading and that there was not enough information to say the DNA from the two different blood types came from the same person.
“It is my opinion that Mr. Soering was eliminated as the contributor of Type O blood at the crime scene,” Schanfield wrote. He added, “At least one or more male contributors ... with Type O blood other than Mr. Soering were at the crime scene.”
Schanfield’s report also criticized what he said was a Sept. 15, 2016, memo from the Department of Forensic Science that he says suggests the bloodtyping done by the forensic laboratory in 1985 may be erroneous because there was not enough blood to work with.
He contends, “This one statement alone indicates a confirmation bias by the DFS laboratory.” The blood typing results for at least one of the Type O stains is “indisputable,” he concluded.
Schanfield added that DesPortes did not have the benefit of the department’s laboratory records, which he reviewed when stating that the DNA profile identified in the Type O blood may have come from a source other than Type O blood.
The department said Tuesday that it could not comment on Schanfield’s contentions.
DesPortes said she based her remarks on the 1985 serology report and on the 2009 Department of Forensic Science report that said there was a common male DNA contributor found in two different blood types. She said if Schanfield had more information to work with than she did, she would defer to his conclusion.
However, she said, without the DNA of the murder victims, the importance of the evidence remains in question.
“Until you know who the source of the DNA is, you don’t know of what value the DNA evidence is,” DesPortes said.
“Have they ruled out the male victim as the contributor? Until they know that, they do not know the true probative value of this evidence,” she said.
Rosenfield said Tuesday that no one has the DNA profiles of the two parents. In any case, he said that the DNA test results in 2009 of the old evidence are not detailed enough to enable positive identifications — only exclusions.
Soering, now 50, was convicted of the murders in 1990 and sentenced to two life terms. He has said that his initial confessions were an effort to protect his girlfriend and that he wrongly thought he had some diplomatic protection and that he might be punished as a juvenile.
Haysom, 53, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 90 years. In an interview last year, she said Soering murdered her parents while she waited in Washington, though she conceded he killed them for her. She also admitted that she was sexually abused by her mother, something that she previously denied.
Some forensic evidence linked her to the crime scene but could have been left by her during a previous visit. Harding’s letter to McAuliffe said his theory is that Elizabeth Haysom was at the crime scene at the time of the murders and was assisted by two men.