RICHMOND — Jens Soering and Elizabeth Haysom — who were convicted in the horrific 1985 slayings of Haysom’s parents — were granted parole Monday and will be released to immigration officials for deportation to Germany and Canada, respectively.
Derek and Nancy Haysom were murdered in their Bedford County home in a crime instigated by Haysom and carried out by Soering, then lovers and students at the University of Virginia. The victims were stabbed and their throats cut in a crime scene described as a slaughterhouse.
Haysom pleaded guilty as an accessory to the murders and testified against Soering, who initially confessed but later recanted. For decades, Soering has been fighting to prove he is innocent, in a case that still generates international attention.
Soering’s claims have won support from advocates including some forensic experts, clergy, current and former law enforcement officials include outgoing Albemarle County Sheriff Chip Harding, and celebrities. Recent attention has included a movie and book about the case. He sought a a pardon from Gov. Ralph Northam, but that request was denied, a spokeswoman said Monday.
Adrianne L. Bennett, chair of the Virginia State Parole Board which investigates pardon requests, said the board recommended against a pardon.
“The years-long, exhaustive investigation … a genuine search for the truth revealed that Jens Soering’s claims of innocence are without merit,” she said.
But, she added, “the parole board has determined that releasing Jens Soering and Elizabeth Haysom to their ICE deportation detainers is appropriate because of their youth at the time of the offenses, their institutional adjustment and the length of their incarceration.”
“The release and permanent expulsion from the United States is an enormous cost-benefit to the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Virginia and we have determined that their release does not pose a public safety risk to the community,” Bennett said.
In a written statement, Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for Northam, said the governor has rejected Soering’s request for an absolute pardon.
“This decision is in line with the parole board’s recommendation,” Yarmosky wrote. “The governor was also made aware that the parole board voted to release Jens Soering and Elizabeth Haysom to ICE, after which they will be permanently removed from the United States and unable to return.”
In a controversial development in 2010, as former Gov. Tim Kaine was leaving office, he quietly agreed to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to approve Soering’s transfer to a German prison. The plan fell through when Bob McDonnell was sworn in as governor.
Soering, 53, a German national, is an inmate at the Buckingham Correctional Center serving two life sentences for first-degree murder. Haysom, 55, a Canadian, is being held at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women serving a 90-year term.
Because the crimes were committed before parole was abolished in Virginia, both have been eligible for early release, although each has been turned down repeatedly.
County sheriff Harding has advocated for Soering’s release after investigating the 1985 murders.
Short of a pardon, he said parole is the best possible outcome for Soering.
“We’ll take it, and he’ll take it, but he still maintains his innocence,” he said in an interview Monday.
Harding said he heard from Soering via email Monday afternoon; he said Soering was ecstatic about the news and thankful to be going home.
U.S. Rep. Ben Cline represents Bedford County, said in a statement that he was “shocked and appalled” by the parole board’s decision.
“The impact of the Haysoms’ murder is still felt by the Bedford community today,” Cline said. “This decision, based not on any remorse by the murderers for their crimes, but instead on some supposed cost-benefit to Virginia, is an insult to the families of the victims and to the principles of justice and the rule of law.”
In 1985, Soering was age 18 and Haysom was 20. The two lovers and students came from privileged, well-to-do families. Soering was the son of a German diplomat and Haysom the daughter of a retired Canadian steel executive.
They had been dating for a few months when on a weekend in March 1985, they drove a rented car to Washington, D.C., to establish an alibi. Soering, a jury concluded, drove the car back to the Haysoms’ home, stabbed them to death and then drove back to Washington.
The victims were stabbed repeatedly and the crime scene was described by an investigator as a “slaughterhouse.”
When police started asking them questions, Haysom and Soering fled the country in October 1985. They were arrested in London in April 1986 for writing bad checks. Both confessed to the killings, but Haysom later said the killer was Soering. She agreed to plead guilty and testify against him.
Soering, who fought extradition, was convicted by a Bedford County jury in 1990.
Haysom, a long-term inmate at Fluvanna has kept a relatively low profile. Soering, in addition to his highly-publicized innocence claims, became a published author writing about criminal justice and inmate issues over the years.
In a 2016 interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Haysom said she deeply regretted her role in the slayings and for involving Soering. But she said Soering was lying about being innocent. Soering said Haysom was lying, hoping to win parole.
In recent years, Soering and his supporters argued among other things that DNA testing conducted on crime scene evidence in 2009 proved that blood said to be his during his trial belonged to someone else. His most recent pardon request relies in part on DNA-related claims.
Bedford Couny officials have maintained that Soering is guilty and the jury verdict was correct.
“Sheriff Mike Brown and Maj. Ricky Gardner of the Bedford County sheriff’s department have at all times demonstrated professionalism,” Bennett said, “and we are grateful for their transparency during this lengthy investigation.”