Unpublished Decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals

This is another document not found on the Soering website, nor ever likely to be. Posted below is the unpublished 30 June 2000 judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in the case of Jens Soering v George Deeds (Prison Warden).

For the information of non-American readers, the U.S. Court of Appeals is a federal court which hears appeals concerned with alleged breaches of constitutional rights (among other cases). In the judicial hierarchy it sits immediately below the Supreme Court of the United States, thus making its seniority self-evident. The Fourth Circuit covers appeals from the states of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the Carolinas.

Jens Soering appealed to the Court of Appeals against the U.S. District Court’s denial of a writ of habeas corpus, which had also previously been denied by the Supreme Court of Virginia in 1998. He did so on the grounds that –

(i) his multiple confessions were obtained in breach of applicable federal law and should not have been admitted into evidence at his trial;

(ii) potentially exculpatory evidence was withheld from him and his lawyers by the prosecution;

(iii) his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective.

Unsurprisingly, in a carefully reasoned and detailed judgment, the Court of Appeals found his claims to be without merit, as has every other court that has ever considered them, both state and federal.


In Mortal Thoughts Soering sought to explain why he confessed to the Haysom murders in the absence of his English solicitor (lawyer). He had a huge problem to overcome because he had voluntarily agreed to be interviewed without the solicitor and repeatedly signed waivers to that effect:

… If I was to keep my promise to save Elizabeth’s life I could not wait forever for my lawyer, and the investigators never did allow me to speak to him. So on the evening of June 8 [1986] I decided to admit to Liz’s crime without having checked my legal status with an attorney.

The interrogation was conducted by Bedford County Detective Ricky Gardner, who dictated these notes onto a tape recorder as soon as the interview was completed:

‘Told by Beever that Soering wanted to talk with me. Brought to detective’s office at 4:45 p.m. Read Miranda warnings to Soering at that time. Said he understood and signed form. Said he would make a statement only to me. Said that he did not want me to tape record the statement. I agreed and asked Jens to tell me what really happened. He began to make his statement.’”

Mortal Thoughts, pages 136-137 (also covered at pages 169-172).

The plain truth is that he was not at any stage denied access to a solicitor. That was always his right, just as it was always his right to sit there in complete silence had he wished, with or without a solicitor, but entirely of his own volition he chose to waive those rights. Strictly from his perspective that may have been extremely foolish, but those were the decisions he made. He asked to speak to Detective Ricky Gardner. And he made no mention of diplomatic immunity, of course. That claim didn’t materialise until four years later.

It is also important to note exactly how Soering’s case was put to the court by Gail Starling Marshall on his behalf. The application was made on the basis that, as a matter of law, his London confessions should have been supressed (i.e., ruled inadmissible), but not on the basis that they were untrue.

Even had those confessions been suppressed, however, he still had a major problem, as the court observed. The confession to the German prosecutor of 30 December 1986 was in every respect unimpeachable, as Marshall had to concede. It was properly admitted into evidence at his trial and causes irreparable damage to the fictional narrative he later created.

The court’s emphatic rejection of Soering’s argument at the same time goes a long way towards discrediting the more recent assertions made by Dr Andrew Griffiths relating to the reliability and admissibility of the confessions. Quite predictably, those assertions are shown to be hopelessly flaccid and thoroughly untenable when they encounter the stern gaze and intellectual acuity of senior judges.


The second ground of appeal was, if anything, even more nonsensical. Soering was trying to implicate two vagrants who had committed a highly unpleasant murder in the same county, also with a knife, but the motivation, method and circumstances were entirely different from the Haysom murders.

Moreover, there was never any possibility of linking the two men, Shifflett and Albright, to Elizabeth Haysom or her parents, nor was there any evidence at all that a knife later found in a police deputy’s car ever belonged to either of them, and in any event there were no traces of blood on it. It is fair to say that the court was deeply unimpressed with that feeble line of argument.


Lastly, Soering came up with four separate reasons for alleging that one of his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective. The court rejected every one and provided reasons for doing so, citing instances of lawyer Richard Neaton’s performance at the trial. This is old and familiar ground. It is quite true that Neaton was disbarred several years later, but in the film Killing for Love he is shown representing Soering with considerable vigour. More importantly, the court studied the trial transcript and concluded that he did not perform below an objective standard of reasonableness.

The court also made the point – one which Soering usually neglects to mention because it doesn’t conform to his narrative – that in fact he had two lawyers representing him, not one. And there was never any suggestion that co-counsel William Cleaveland suffered from the slightest mental impediment, as the court similarly observed. Soering was competently represented at his trial.

At just nine pages the judgment is not especially long, and well worth reading in full. This is something else Soering would prefer to sweep under the carpet.


Unpublished Decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals – Soering v Deeds, 2000.