There is a well known series of books for a general readership published as x, y or z… For Dummies. The series has many different titles, written by experts for people who lack knowledge in a given area. Physics For Dummies is one example. You certainly don’t become an instant expert after reading such a book, of course, but with any luck you end up a little less ignorant than before, and being a little less ignorant about something usually has value. The potential danger, nonetheless, is then falling into the belief that you know much more than you actually do, as foreshadowed by Alexander Pope in An Essay on Criticism (1709):
“A little learning is a dang’rous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, And drinking largely sobers us again.”
So now, in a renewed effort to promulgate the same old mixture of lies, half-truths, distortions, and attempts to divert and mislead readers with fallacious arguments, we have been treated to The Soering Case Made Simple, a purported Dummy’s Guide for the uninformed and hard of thinking. “Become an instant expert!” Except, of course, it just doesn’t work like that, and definitely not in this case.
All the same, it’s not entirely without interest for connoisseurs of the case, and there are a couple of reasons why it’s worth a look here, albeit quite briefly. It also has the dubious merit of placing many of the collected claims in one place, much like an anthology of favourite poetry: A Golden Treasury of Lies.
Unsurprisingly, this publication contains nothing new of any actual substance, despite another damp squib in the form of – wait for it – a “NEW DISCOVERY.” This is a world in which there is always “new evidence” and “new discoveries”. (It should also be noted that crank and fantasist Tony Buchanan has now disappeared from the picture.)
What this document really amounts to, for the most part, is a reiteration of claims that have already been examined at some length in other posts on this site. All that’s new is just the graphic style of presentation, as skilfully created by devoted Soering fan Annabel Hagemann (a.k.a. Annabel London), a German citizen in her 30s who has been in north-west London for some years. The same old claims are there, merely in abbreviated form this time, as little more than extended bullet points with pictures.
Note: As of 5-8-18 a German language version is also available.
Among all the nonsense there is one issue that undoubtedly deserves another careful look, namely Soering’s confession to German prosecutor Koenig on 30 December 1986. To recap very briefly the story we’ve all come to know so well, Soering claimed for the first time in 1990 that his London confessions to detectives Wright, Beever and Gardner in June 1986 were false, made in order to protect Elizabeth Haysom and in the belief that he possessed diplomatic immunity. It has been shown at considerable length on this site why those claims cannot be true.
Even if we were to lapse into credulity and entertain the absurd possibility that his initial confessions were false, by the time of Soering’s interview with the German prosecutor he knew only too well that Elizabeth was committed to returning voluntarily to Virginia, and that he most certainly did not have diplomatic immunity. Yet he still confessed again. This is a major problem for him because it blows a massive hole in his story, and one which was never satisfactorily explained. It is notable that in Mortal Thoughts the entire 30 December 1986 encounter, despite its significance, is glossed over in just one sentence:
“…in December, 1986, the German government had even sent a prosecutor all the way to England to obtain another “confession” from me, so I could be put on trial in my own country for the Virginian homicides.” (Page 152.)
The German government also sent defence counsel Dr Frieser, but it suits Soering not to mention him there.
The assertion is in any event totally misleading. Soering knew at that point, as did the Germans, that his ultimate destination was almost certainly going to be the United States. This is explicitly acknowledged in the German prosecutor’s introduction, where it is stated that Soering –
“… is as from 31.12.86 in custody pending extradition to America.”
Interview with the German prosecutor, page 1.
To the extent that the Germans ever had any claim at all on Soering, they were always second in line, a long way behind the Americans.
In The Case Made Simple he confronts this huge flaw in his story. Protecting Elizabeth and diplomatic immunity are now discarded like soiled underwear, as they had to be. But that’s OK because Soering then has another, completely different, justification for confessing:
“So my lawyers arranged for me to “confess” all over again to a German prosecutor, in order to provide enough evidence to satisfy the requirements of a German extradition request. The ONLY reason for providing this “confession” was to try to get to Germany, to avoid being executed in America.
In December 1986, I “confessed” AGAIN – because I didn’t want to be executed.”
Desperate stuff there, truly desperate. Another confession, another reason. As already shown, the German expectation was that Soering would be returned to Virginia.
He then goes on to say that the confession was given on legal advice:
“As part of the habeas corpus proceedings as well as the pardon petition, my German lawyers provided written statements explaining that I provided the December 1986 “confession” only on their legal advice.”
Anyone who has read the posts on this site will know that nothing Soering says can ever be taken as true without independent supporting evidence. However, on this occasion it is highly probable that prima facie evidence was in fact required to give the German authorities grounds for their own extradition request. But it also misses the bigger point.
Had Soering been going to repudiate his earlier confessions, realistically that was his last chance to do it – to muddy the water, so to speak. Confirming them in yet another confession was hardly going to assist him upon his return to Virginia. Indeed, it placed his life in even graver jeopardy by reinforcing the veracity of the earlier confessions.
He says that he confessed again on legal advice. Perhaps he did. What he doesn’t claim, however, is that he was advised to make any kind of false confession, which would have been inconceivable. All the same, that appears to be what he wishes to imply, as seen in the passage from The Case Made Simple previously quoted:
“So my lawyers arranged for me to “confess” all over again to a German prosecutor…”
This is a claim that can also be found in similar terms in a 2015 Memorandum Soering wrote to an unidentified party:
“So the German government and my German lawyers decided that I had to “confess” all over again, to provide the necessary evidence (a confession) to charge me in a German court…
My German lawyer from December 1986 still represents me today, and he can confirm all of this.” (Page 5.)
But what exactly is it that the German lawyer might confirm? If the implication is that the German government and his German lawyer colluded with him to make a false confession then that can only be patently untrue.
What we can take for granted is that Soering received the best possible legal advice. His defence counsel was provided by the German government in Bonn – prior to reunification in 1990 the capital of West Germany (and birthplace of the great Ludwig van Beethoven). There would have been no shortage of high quality lawyers in the city of Bonn. We are also entitled to assume that the German lawyer, like his English counterparts, had a well developed sense of professional ethics and propriety (as well as legal tactics).
For a defence counsel to have advised – or even permitted – a client to confess to murders he claimed not to have committed would have been much more than unethical and improper: it would have been reckless, irresponsible and utterly stupid. He was there with a duty to assist in Soering’s defence, not to help kick open the door to the execution chamber even wider. We can be quite certain that no such advice was ever given; it is unthinkable.
Soering says that his German lawyer from 1986, presumably Dr Frieser, still represents him and can confirm “all of this”. We await such confirmation with keen anticipation and the greatest interest. After 32 years we can be patient for a little longer. To the extent that the claim might be true, any confirmation would reveal only that he admitted his guilt to Dr Frieser, who then advised him to repeat that to the prosecutor so as to give Germany its own, secondary, extradition claim. That’s obviously why he won’t publish it; otherwise it would be there in pride of place on his website.
On a rather similar point, he returns in The Case Made Simple to the 21-page report of Dr Andrew Griffiths, who said he had “significant doubts” about the reliability of the initial confessions. This is inevitably cited as if it were holy writ instead of a highly tendentious expression of opinion. Normally anything considered favourable to Soering’s cause is placed on his website and publicised with the volume turned up to 11. And yet not this, strangely enough, which suggests there may be something in it he doesn’t want people to see. What we get are just a few brief and carefully cherry-picked extracts.
However, we do have the benefit of the letter Griffiths wrote to the Governor. There he is cautious in what he is willing to say, limiting himself to the London confessions made in June 1986:
“… I did not conduct an investigation of all the case evidence, but only of the confession. Consequently, I am not in a position to speak to Mr. Soering’s guilt or innocence, or to offer you a recommendation on the petition for pardon currently pending before you.” (Page 3 of 3.)
All the same, if he considers those June 1986 confessions to be unreliable, then –
What about the confessions to psychiatrists Dr John Hamilton and Dr Henrietta Bullard?
And the confession to the German prosecutor?
And the admissions of guilt to the European Commission of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights in 1989?
One problem is that the issues were looked at by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in 2000, and found to be without merit. Seeking to revive and revise them now is an exercise in futility. The confessions and admissions cannot be chopped into convenient portions to be accepted or rejected at will, like “bleeding chunks of Wagner.” They necessarily stand or fall as a whole, and have to be viewed in that light.
Consequently, Soering’s bold ambition is for everything occurring between 1986 and 1989 to be rejected en masse so that he can start again from the beginning and rewrite the entire story. That has been his life’s work. Were it to succeed it would make a mockery of criminal justice across two continents.
As for Griffiths himself, despite his explicit caveats he nevertheless recites the same lines from the usual script. He reiterates in his conclusion that –
“…Jens Soering’s confession is unreliable, and that, therefore, the trial verdict is unsafe as it was largely based on his confession. I believe Mr. Soering would not be convicted if the trial were held today and the jury heard all the evidence available now.” (Page 3.)
The statement that the verdict was largely based on his [London] confession (in fact confessions, plural) is inaccurate and grossly presumptuous, and all the more surprising after “approx. five months” of work on the case. Griffiths says very clearly in his letter that he did not conduct an investigation of all the case evidence, nor was he in the jury room, so he couldn’t possibly begin to justify this assertion.
He doesn’t reveal what contribution, if any, the confession to the German prosecutor and the testimony of Elizabeth Haysom might have made to the verdict, nor that of the letters, diary and other evidence. Perhaps he dismissed all of those as irrelevant, thus leaving himself in a minority of one. But then he didn’t trouble to investigate, of course, so how would he know?
Moreover, like so many in this case (Harding, Reid, Hudson, Sizemore, Lapekas, etc.), Griffiths also overreaches by venturing well beyond his area of knowledge and arrogating to himself the right to pronounce on the safety of a conviction and the likelihood of conviction were the case to be tried today.
What these people have in common, it would appear, is a total lack of qualifications in either law or psychology. They are entitled to their personal opinions, naturally, just as we’re each entitled to have opinions on the abstruse details of nuclear fission or the technical aspects of spinal surgery. But all such opinions can be safely disregarded because they come with no authority at all.
The resolution of issues relating to the admissibility of evidence and the safety of convictions is for appropriately qualified judges. Any arguments about them would be made in a court by suitably experienced criminal lawyers, and a judge (or judges) would then make a decision of the basis of legal principle, statutory law and/or binding precedent. That’s how it works.
In the end, far too many people in Soering’s team routinely claim expertise and authority they simply don’t possess. They make public statements and issue reports on the case safe in the knowledge that they will never be called to account for them, least of all by a compliant media. Under searching cross-examination in a court of law they would be very seriously embarrassed and discredited.
The final matter to look at here is what they’re calling a “new discovery” – “Episode 6: The Shoeprint.” It needn’t detain us very long.
Soering is now shouting about, in particular, the finding of –
“a shoeprint found in the bar area of the living room (LR) which carries no letter or number designation and has a pattern that is clearly distinguishable from both LR2 and 14DR.”
What does this mean? He’s eager to tell us, in capital letters:
“Clearly, TWO DIFFERENT SHOES left prints at the crime scene!”
“Could Mr. Updike’s entire theory of the case be wrong?”
Uh, no, not at all. Once again, a hypothesis devoid of merit.
He refers to the “crime scene.” At the same time, very conveniently, something rather important seems not to have occurred to him: it was not always a crime scene. Before Soering’s appearance there, the rooms were part of a normal family home and would typically have shown the signs of daily use, perhaps even more conspicuously on a wooden floor. In other words, the room in question here, the living room (LR), was not some kind of sterile area bearing no marks of use prior to the murders. Quite the opposite: the overwhelming likelihood is that fingerprints and shoeprints wholly unrelated to the murders would already have been present there in the room.
The task for investigators was to distinguish prints that were relevant to the murders from those that weren’t. Any marks that were made in, surrounded by, or close to, blood would self-evidently have provided excellent clues in that endeavour.
The shoeprint with no letter or number designation found in the bar area can be seen as positioned off to the side, away from and unconnected to any bloodstains. What this suggests is that there is no necessary link to the murders; it could have been left there before Soering even entered the house.
But then there’s also another obvious possibility, of course, perhaps even more likely. Since the shoeprint wasn’t logged and detailed by investigators, we might reasonably infer that it was left by one of the various people entering the house after the bodies had been discovered and therefore known to be extraneous.
The alternative is that all the forensics officers were glaringly negligent to the point of total incompetence. That conclusion would suit Soering extremely well, no doubt. The problem is that there are no grounds whatever for believing that examination of the crime scene was anything other than meticulous. As usual in this case, wishing doesn’t make it so.
The argument is so flimsy and specious that nothing more need be said about it. Exactly the same applies to The Soering Case Made Simple as a whole, which is just another product of ever-increasing desperation.
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