Albemarle County Sheriff J.E. “Chip” Harding wrote a 19-page report to support the release of Jens Soering. Soering was convicted of the 1985 Bedford County double murder of Derek & Nancy Haysom. He is serving life.
Soering was dating the Haysoms’ daughter Elizabeth. She pled guilty and is serving 90 years in prison.
Most likely, this is the first time in Virginia’s history that an active sheriff supports a pardon request by submitting such an extensive report to the Governor.
If you do a web search for the Haysom Murders or for Jens Soering, you will find the entire story. I am not going to repeat that here. I wish to focus on a few points from the report.
Sheriff Harding spent more than 200 hours reviewing the Soering file pro bono. If you click here you will find the PDF of the 19 page letter he wrote. For clarity, the trial prosecutor’s name was James Updike. Soering’s lead defense attorney was Richard A. Neaton. Neaton later had his license suspended by the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board.
A few points to highlight the importance of Sheriff Harding’s letter:
DNA exclusion: Updike said that Soering cut himself during the attack and that he had left blood at the crime scene. In 1985 we did not have DNA testing yet. Now we do. The DNA in that blood does not belong to Soering. The contributors (yes, plural) are unknown.
The sock print and tennis shoe impressions at the crime scene: a slide from a foot in a sock was found at the scene and tennis shoe impressions. An expert measured it at “size 6 ½ to 7 ½ woman’s shoe or size 5 to 6 man’s shoe.” Soering wears size 8 ½.
Soering’s Confessions: Soering told police things that do not match the evidence at the crime scene. The jury never heard that. Some examples:
- Soering told police that Nancy Haysom wore jeans the night of the murders. She wore a flowery house coat.
- Soering told police that he cuts each victim’s throat and then ran out of the house. The victims’ throats were indeed cut. However, Derek was stabbed 11 times in his chest and 14 times in his back. Nancy was stabbed multiple times as well. Soering never mentioned that in his confessions. Worse, this discrepancy was never questioned at the time that he gave his confession.
- There is evidence that somebody showered after the murders. Soering never mentioned that.
Online I saw comments from people who do not understand why a Sheriff would support a prisoner’s request for release. People still assume that if you confess you are 100% guilty, no mistake. There is also a difference between blood type and DNA. Yes, Soering has blood type O but it is not his DNA that was found. In fact, two unknown men left their blood at the crime scene. Maybe we can use phenotyping to get an idea of what these men possibly look like to jog people’s memories.
Sheriff Harding assisted the Innocence Project in the case of Michael Hash. I’d like to end this post with his own words.
“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.
This was not a just outcome for the many reasons raised above.
In my opinion, Jens Soering would not be convicted if the case were tried today, and the evidence appears to support a case for his innocence.”