Shrill, concerted innocence campaigns are nothing new. In England, in 1975, a character named George Davis was convicted of an armed robbery at the London Electricity Board, for which he received a 20-year prison sentence. The slogan “George Davis is Innocent” soon became well known, and an aggressive campaign by his supporters then followed, culminating in the overnight digging up of a cricket pitch to prevent the continuation of a match between England and Australia. Roger Daltry of The Who lent his support and punk band Sham 69 recorded a song proclaiming Davis’s innocence.
The conviction was nevertheless upheld by the Court of Appeal in 1976, but Davis was released only days later by the Home Secretary in the exercise of his powers under the royal prerogative of mercy. Just a year later George Davis was caught in the act by officers of the Metropolitan Police, sitting at the wheel of a getaway van with weapons by his side during yet another armed robbery. On that occasion poetic justice finally prevailed.
In 1962 James Hanratty was hanged for murder, making him among the last few people to be executed in England. Armed with a gun, he had surprised a romantic couple in their car late at night, taken them hostage, and forced the man to drive around for several hours. Early in the morning Hanratty told the man to pull into a lay-by, at which point he shot him dead. He then raped the woman before also shooting her multiple times. Amazingly, she survived, although left badly paralysed, and was later able to identify the attacker. He claimed to be innocent from first to last but after a trial he was convicted and sentenced to death.
Hanratty’s family, in conjunction with a self-appointed “Defence Committee” of prominent journalists, activists and politicians, part-funded by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, thereafter mounted a vigorous campaign to clear his name that would last for the best part of 40 years. Speeches were made, interviews were broadcast, articles and books were written; the loyal followers never doubted the righteousness of their cause for a second.
In the late 1990s DNA testing was carried out on two items of evidence retained by police, these being viable samples of mucus from a handkerchief and semen from the woman’s underwear. Hanratty’s body was exhumed in 2001 and DNA samples were extracted from his teeth. They were found to be an exact match with DNA from the mucus and semen samples. According to Wikipedia, his family have continued to contest his guilt, which should be a salutary lesson. For some people no amount of evidence is ever enough to shake their delusions.
We know that wrongful convictions sometimes occur, but equally we know that many claims of innocence are made by cynical bandwagon-jumpers which on close examination turn out to be utterly bogus. The Jens Soering case falls fairly and squarely into the latter category. Noise and froth cannot change that, nor will any number of claims, reports, articles, books – or podcasts.
The question ultimately boils down to one of facts and evidence. Unfortunately for Soering’s supporters they cannot possibly succeed on that basis. There can be no doubt some know that, while others are too gullible or lack the mental resources to appreciate that they’ve bought the Brooklyn Bridge at a special discount.
If we needed an insight into what’s really going on, it was to be found in a recent podcast: Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom. This saw John Grisham at battle stations for the cause, and he was a little more forthright than most when he said this:
“We are almost sanctimonious in our belief that we are right and everybody else is wrong, and it’s time to make something good happen.”
Just cut the “almost” and that statement’s 100% true. As long as you exclude the “something good”, of course. He continued:
“…We’re not going to stop, slow down or be quiet. We are just going to get more and more vocal and push harder and harder until we get justice.”
Except that what he wants is not even closely related to justice as the rest of the world understands it. Instead, he and the gang intend to keep up the noise and fury until they get their own way. That’s a different thing entirely. All that statement does is make explicit what we already knew. It’s crucial for them because they know that failure will see many reputations rapidly disappearing down the toilet, all in the service of making a fetish out of a murderer.
The Wrongful Conviction podcast should be heard by everyone with a proper grasp of the Soering case – not for its content, of course, but as a stunning illustration of nonsense on stilts. It consists of Jason Flom, Chip Harding, John Grisham, and Jens Soering by telephone, as a celebrity guest, all talking arrant rubbish about the Haysom murders and portentously agreeing with one another. Flom, as host, tells us at the start that the episode is going to “rock your world.” It does no such thing, unsurprisingly, not unless listening to 66 minutes of bluster, lies and misapprehension is what rocks your world – although it may leave you feeling somewhat bilious.
For the third time here, it’s necessary to point out that Soering was not “an exchange student”, as Flom refers to him, and no amount of repetition will make it so. But it does strongly suggest that everyone involved is getting his information from exactly the same script, which is par for the course.
Before looking at specific assertions and claims from the podcast, let’s pause briefly and consider a hypothetical case. Imagine that you have close links to someone sitting in prison as a genuinely innocent man. There are many things you will wish for, but above all you want the facts to be known and the truth to be revealed. To that end you’re open to every challenge and serious question. What you certainly don’t do is base a noisy media campaign on lies, omission, evasion, distortion, manipulation and obfuscation. You don’t build an all-singing, all-dancing website dedicated only to promulgating misinformation. You don’t create Facebook pages merely for the ignorant and simple-minded, where any sign of critical analysis is strictly verboten, where legitimate points and queries are removed within minutes and the people submitting them get immediately blocked by ever-watchful guardians. In short, you don’t act like an online outpost of North Korea, where any deviation from the authorised narrative must be suppressed. You just don’t do that, not if you’re honest and sincere. Not if you truly believe that your hero is actually innocent. It’s the last thing you do.
But if you’re terrified of the truth and your aim is to exonerate an exceptionally brutal murderer by any means necessary – well, different tactics are required. If winning is all that matters then you do whatever it takes. And that’s exactly what we see in the Soering case. As we heard so frankly from John Grisham, the campaigners fully intend to continue stamping their feet and making their demands like petulant children, reminiscent of Violet Elizabeth Bott and her lisping threats to scream and scream till she was sick.
Many of the issues raised during the podcast have already been covered here in earlier posts, so there’s no point in going over old ground yet again. The facts haven’t changed and they can be left to speak for themselves – because they’re not going away. Moreover, each contributor repeats claims and allegations as if in imitation of the Gish gallop, this being a slippery debating technique in which multiple arguments are thrown out in as short a time as possible, regardless of truth or accuracy, with the aim of making it impossible to answer them effectively. This review is therefore not at all comprehensive, nor does it purport to be, but selected aspects of the podcast are still worth a little attention and comment.
So what do they have to say? Soering was asked to give an account of how things got started. Following his usual stream of rehearsed lies he addressed the period after his arrest in London:
“For four days they interrogated me, four days – many, many hours, dozens and dozens and dozens of hours, and then finally on the fourth day I decided to keep my promise to Elizabeth that I had made 15 months earlier, and I decided to take the blame for what she did. And that’s what I did.”
Oh, how terrible! “Dozens and dozens and dozens of hours…” Was this at Gestapo headquarters?
It’s completely untrue, inevitably. Over four days, from June 5 to June 8, Soering was questioned for a total of 14 hours and 48 minutes, which included an interview of 1 hour 27 minutes about the English fraud offences. During all of those interviews he was treated with every consideration, as the records and tapes show. And he began confessing on the first day, not the fourth, while at the same time fully implicating Elizabeth Haysom in the plot, never protecting her.
One of the most remarkable things was Soering’s behaviour over those four days. Before being taken back to the police station for questioning, he and Haysom appeared at Richmond (UK) Magistrates’ Court on June 5, where their continued detention was authorised. At that time they spoke to their solicitor (lawyer), Keith Barker, who advised them not to answer any questions in his absence. While she followed that advice for a time, he totally disregarded it, and declined offers of further legal advice. That was the choice he made, with full knowledge of his rights.
Soering was interviewed three separate times on that first day, a total of 5 hours 47 minutes. Interview 1 was somewhat exploratory. He confirmed that all was well and made no confessions. Then, during interview 2, the detectives initiated their action plan and confronted him with the letters. At that point the admissions started coming in relation to both his role and Elizabeth’s. There was no protection – he took her down with him.
But the day wasn’t over. Having been returned to his cell for the evening at 6.45pm, Soering then asked to speak to the detectives again. He was taken back to the interview room, signed a Miranda form, and continued his confessions to murder for a further 3 hours 9 minutes.
Over the nest three days the confessions kept coming in extraordinary detail. He was interviewed by the detectives on a further three occasions about the murders, once each day, and every time the interviews were at his own request.
Soering was foolish in the extreme to ignore his solicitor’s advice, which had been entirely appropriate in the circumstances. Why did he do it? At least in part, the prevailing view was, and remains, that he had an insatiable need to be the centre of attention.
For example, the interview of June 7:
DS Beever: “Is that the same night you visited Loose Chippings – the night that you described to us in earlier interviews when the door was answered by Mr Haysom, a small meal was prepared for you, the night you had a few drinks together, the night Mr and Mrs Haysom argued in front of you …”
Soering: “And with me, and with me.”
When Investigator Gardner subsequently returned to the same topic, Soering was still keen not to be left out of the picture:
Gardner: “…but when Sgt. Beever was making his point about you being there, having a drink with the Haysoms and having an argument in front of you…”
Soering: “And with me, yes.”
In that respect nothing much has changed over the years. But even more importantly, he believed that investigators knew much more than they really did, and they were content to let him think it. As experienced professionals they had no intention of revealing their quite limited hand at that stage. When collecting up and throwing away his glassware, plate, utensils, etc., Soering had been a little more successful than he realised in removing a good many (but not all) of his forensic traces at the Haysoms’ home.
There is more that still needs to be said about this matter, but it will have to wait for a dedicated post of its own in the fullness of time.
Jens Soering: “[Elizabeth Haysom] had serious mental health issues…”
But not a whisper there about his own serious mental health issues, naturally. Let’s put that right straight away. It was the view of Dr John Hamilton, the consultant forensic psychiatrist employed by Jens Soering’s parents, that he was suffering from –
“an abnormality of mind (arising from disease of the mind) [so] as to substantially impair his mental responsibility for his acts.”
And then the European Court of Human Rights was presented with medical evidence from his own legal team that Soering had been admitted to the hospital wing of his prison in 1988:
“On 5 August 1988 the applicant was transferred to a prison hospital where he remained until early November 1988 under the special regime applied to suicide-risk prisoners.
According to psychiatric evidence adduced on behalf of the applicant (report dated 16 March 1989 by Dr D. Somekh), the applicant’s dread of extreme physical violence and homosexual abuse from other inmates in death row in Virginia is in particular having a profound psychological effect on him. The psychiatrist’s report records a mounting desperation in the applicant, together with objective fears that he may seek to take his own life.” (Paragraph 25.)
This is merely one more illustration of the highly selective use of evidence by Soering and those who support him. It’s just not honest.
Soering: “And, of course, I was a man and I didn’t know the victims. I met them one time for 20 minutes. So, they should have known that the story I was telling them was not true.”
It’s curious how short that lunch has become over time. But he met the Haysoms at least twice, of course, as he told Dr Hamilton.
And then we come to one of the most familiar refrains, namely the mistakes in his confessions. This is where the others get to pile in too, supplementing Soering’s lies with blustering demonstrations of their own ignorance:
Soering: “I told them the story that she and I had cooked up and, of course, that false confession contained many mistakes that the real killer would not have made. I described the clothing of one victim incorrectly and I placed the other victim in the wrong room and there were numerous mistakes like that, which should have alerted the police to the fact that I might not be telling the truth.”
Jason Flom: “In your case… the reason that you were wrong about these details was because you just didn’t know. So, here you had a guy, you were actually the smartest guy in the room, and you were trying your best to save who you thought was the love of your life, and yet you were unable to get almost anything right because of the fact that you weren’t there.”
John Grisham: “…with a false confession it’s usually fairly simple to realize, once you start matching the confession given by somebody who wasn’t there, it’s impossible for them to remember all the details that the real killer would actually know…
…And in Jens’ case, there were so many discrepancies between his confession and the actual physical crime scene, you just want to scream and say, ‘why didn’t somebody put these together, match ‘em up?’”
It’s hard to understand how supposedly intelligent people can say any of this with no discernible sense of embarrassment. It’s another myth repeated like a mantra, and has no substance. Soering was interviewed for over 13 hours about the Haysom murders specifically, which is a lot of talking and a lot of words. It was at a point in time more than 14 months later, and he acknowledged that he had consumed a considerable amount of alcohol beforehand and at the Haysoms’ home. It’s no wonder that his memory was just a little hazy in certain places, especially considering he had been involved in a frenzied fight to the death. Let’s recall, once again, the words of Chuck Reid in the Washington Post of 9 March 2017, looking back to a violent on-duty incident when he was presumably entirely sober:
“He recalled a life-or-death struggle of his own, in 1981, with a prisoner who managed to grab hold of his gun. Reid prevailed, but afterward was too shaken and exhausted to think straight. “From experience, believe me, your mind is like scrambled eggs,” he said.”
Quite so. Memories are not video recordings.
Nevertheless, the fact is that Soering’s confessions are remarkably accurate in most particulars and recount a multitude of small details that only the actual murderer could possibly know. But his technique and that of his defenders is always the same. Thus:
Soering: “that false confession contained many mistakes… and there were numerous mistakes like that…”
Flom: “…you were unable to get almost anything right because of the fact that you weren’t there.”
Grisham: “there were so many discrepancies between his confession and the actual physical crime scene…”
It is a tedious and recurring feature here that Soering and his supporters always mention the position of the bodies, Nancy Haysom’s clothing – and, and, and, ooooh, many, many other mistakes. Everyone cites these many, many mistakes without ever troubling to enumerate them, and there’s a good reason for that: the highly detailed confessions over those 13+ hours simply did not have “so many discrepancies.” He remembered what he’d he done, just as he told the investigators.
Jason Flom also said confidently that Soering was “the smartest guy in the room.” It ain’t necessarily so…
Grisham: “…I was in the courtroom a lot. I didn’t win many cases, because they weren’t supposed to be won. Most of my clients went to prison.”
The notion of cases that “weren’t supposed to be won” is certainly intriguing. Isn’t the whole idea to win cases – or at least to win a lot more than you lose? It sounds as if the move to legal fiction was beneficial for everyone concerned, then he could make up his own facts and endings.
Grisham: “So, I can’t tell you specifically what I would have done 30 years ago to save Jens. I can’t do that. I’m not that smart.”
No, that’s already apparent. And yet Grisham still feels he knows much better then “the local boys”:
Grisham: “And somebody, whether the cops – and the local boys are, you know, not always that reliable, especially in a rural county like Bedford, Virginia, where they don’t see a lot of murders and the cops are not that well trained and sophisticated.”
That’s nothing if not audacious. Does he dare to apply the same judgement to experienced Scotland Yard detectives too? These are men who stand shoulder to shoulder with Ricky Gardner and the Bedford authorities, not an inch between them. They can’t be airbrushed out of the picture.
The image Grisham wants to create is one of primitive, unsophisticated people, local yokels and country bumpkins who probably feast on mangelwurzels for breakfast. It’s a wonder they can even tie their shoelaces! But it’s quite bizarre that someone who was born in Arkansas and grew up in Mississippi should make such insulting and ill-informed comments because they merely invite ironic laughter. It may also not be the best way to gain respect in his adopted home state.
Flom: “…I think there was an inherent bias. I can’t prove this, because of the fact that it was Bedford County which ironically is the county that lost more soldiers in World War Two to the Germans per capita than anywhere else in the United States; it’s why the World War Two memorial is there. And so I think that there’s at least an argument that there could have been – the odds were stacked against Jens from the beginning.”
OK, boys, get the tin helmets out – now we’re fighting the war again. Let’s dig up Winston Churchill and invade Germany! All together:
“Vor der Kaserne / Vor dem grossen Tor / Stand eine Laterne / Und steht sie noch davor / So woll’n wir uns da wieder seh’n / Bei der Laterne wollen wir steh’n / Wie einst Lili Marleen.”
This nonsense was also raised in desperation by David Watson, right at the end of his 2012 letter to the Parole Board. We could think of it as his version of the Ardennes counter-offensive, doomed to failure. It’s regrettable that Jason Flom seeks to resurrect it now. As he says, he can’t prove it, nor will he because it’s grasping at thin air. Perhaps he doesn’t even know that Judge Sweeney agreed to import the jury members from Nelson County, not Bedford, so as to avoid the risk of prejudice from publicity surrounding the case.
It should also be noted that the D-Day war memorial Flom refers to was not in existence at the time of Soering’s trial in 1990. It did not open until 2001.
(In the wider context of public opinion about the case, there is nevertheless a legitimate issue of prejudice, and it merits examination at some future point. For the most part that prejudice is actually coming from a minority of Germans towards America and Americans. It’s real, but at the same time it is not representative of German opinion as a whole, and it’s necessary to be clear about that. There are many intelligent German people who are perceptive enough to see right through Soering and his games, and privately some of those are great supporters of this site. Old prejudices will not be given the luxury of houseroom here. It is also notable that the only other website dedicated to exposing Soering is in the German language.)
But inevitably we have to turn to Chip Harding, as usual. Pretty much every sentence he utters is based on his own ignorance, and/or prejudice, and/or misapprehension, and/or incompetence – in all, a dismal display of intellectual failure, if not worse. He now asserts that “collectively, we’ve given a couple of thousand hours” in working time on the case, notwithstanding his duties to the people of Albemarle County. And yet his original report to the Governor was on his own reckoning based on only 200 hours work. Since the many and various errors in that disgraceful report remain uncorrected he must be assumed to stand by it. Certainly he’s managed to produce nothing of any substance since that time.
Harding: “There is nothing that puts him there other than his false confession and, as John was saying earlier, the confession did not match the crime scene…”
There was nothing false about the multiple confessions Soering made and fully acknowledged for four years, which closely matched the evidence at the crime scene. For an abridged version (as compared to the much more lengthy London confessions) one need only look at his confession to the German prosecutor.
Harding: “…he had a very, very ineffective defense attorney.”
He had the attorneys specifically chosen and paid for by his parents – two of them, let’s not forget, one being local and well versed in Virginia law and procedure.
The alleged ineffectiveness of counsel was looked at very carefully and rejected by senior judges of the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, as Harding knows perfectly well, as does everyone in Soering’s team. But he, as a man with apparently no legal qualifications at all, thinks he knows better. He’s attempting to play a tune on an old fiddle with no strings.
Harding: “The O blood, now we know absolutely, no one contests the fact that it is not Jens Soering. He’s not been detected in the crime scene, but two other males, one with AB blood and one with O blood, have been detected at the crime scene and we have not identified these people…”
What? “…two other males, one with AB blood and one with O blood, have been detected at the crime scene…” And yet Professor Dan Krane, one of America’s leading DNA experts, commissioned independently and genuinely with “no skin in the game”, disagrees:
“There’s no indication that Jens Soering was present at the crime scene, but I think we can also say that there’s no affirmative indication of anybody other than the victims being present at the crime scene as well.”
Which is precisely why, as Harding has no choice but to admit, “we have not identified these people.” Not much of a surprise, is it? They don’t exist.
And then all of this even before the Virginia authorities have made their own findings known.
Harding: “They bring in a non-qualified individual to testify. He did a – we like to refer to it as a magic trick – created an overlay of an impression of Jens’ foot and said it basically fits like a glove.”
Well, here we go again. The truth about this was explained in an addendum to the Richard Hudson post, as taken from “Tidewater” (for which appropriate credit to him).
Robert Hallett was a well-qualified FBI forensics expert in several different fields, and clearly acknowledged as such by Judge Sweeney. That is not open to question. Sweeney took the view, however, that sock-print evidence was not sufficiently established in Virginia so as to be the subject of expert opinion testimony – whether from Hallett or from anyone else. For that reason he ruled that Hallett could not give expert testimony on the specific subject of the sock-print: he could only give factual evidence about the work he’d carried out.
Soering’s preferred experts, Frederick Webb and Russell Johnson, were no better qualified than Hallett, and in exactly the same way neither would have been permitted to give expert opinion evidence in court on the sock-print. By means of their affidavits, however, each man then purported to do precisely what Judge Sweeney had ruled inadmissible. If Hallett couldn’t do it, nor could Webb or Johnson.
The effect of the judge’s ruling was that the significance of the sock-print at the crime scene became entirely a matter of fact for the jury.
None of this is exceptionally difficult to understand. And yet Harding refers to Robert Hallett as a “non-qualified individual.” Is he really that stupid or is he being wilfully dishonest? To compound his error (if it really was an error) he then says that Hallett claimed, in relation to his overlay, that the sock-print “basically fits like a glove.” He did not. The assertion was made by prosecutor Jim Updike. It seems inconceivable that someone who has spent as long as he claims to have spent on the case could have made these egregious mistakes unwittingly.
Harding: “We’ve looked very hard at everything that Jens has said and we have not caught him in a lie. Everything that he said, we have no reason not to believe him.”
This is beyond parody. Harding has already undermined his own credibility to vanishing point, and now he resorts to a claim so breathtakingly asinine that it defies belief. Nearly every word coming out of Soering’s mouth is a lie. To begin to get a sense of that would take any person of reasonable intelligence about half an hour to discover, and everything on this website demonstrates that fact. You need only look at a claim made by Soering and then check it against independent evidence. Even the dogs on the street know it, but not Harding, or so he says. We’re now way past any point at which he can claim to be speaking in good faith. Eventually the conclusion becomes irresistible that his many mistakes are not being made inadvertently.
Grisham: “…but I started reading about the case, read the book, saw the movie and realized that this took place very close to where I live and I became convinced it was a huge miscarriage of justice and became fascinated with it.”
“I… read the book, saw the movie…” We’re back to the old GIGO principle again. Presumably in Grisham’s case he even believes what he says because he just hasn’t done the necessary work. When your sources of information are utterly mendacious then everything based on them will be garbage. Any lawyer or detective should know that perfectly well. Both the book and the film are the product of Soering’s relentless lies, as has been shown here in considerable detail already. There’ll be more to come…
Grisham: “And I thought about writing a story. I thought about writing a book.”
Good idea. That very thing was suggested here months ago. Best to keep to stories, then everything can be made to match his own most earnest hopes and desires. In an alternative universe of the imagination Jens Soering can be transformed into an innocent man – but certainly not in this one.
Grisham: “We believe there is going to be a happy ending, because we’re all working hard with a game plan to get Jens out and get him back to Germany, and Jens and I have this kind of a running gag that one day soon we’re going to be drinking a beer together in Munich at Oktoberfest.”
Would everyone in Munich be pleased to see him? There’s very good reason to doubt that.
Harding: “The bottom line, most frustrating for me is the law enforcement. I’m in law enforcement and I hope I’m respected in law enforcement. I’m a sitting Sheriff and yet the sitting Sheriff in Bedford County refuses to meet with me and even discuss the case. The lead investigator won’t meet with the four of us who have given thousands of hours pro bono – we don’t have anything in it, we’re just looking for justice. We asked for one hour and he says he doesn’t have time.”
“I hope I’m respected in law enforcement.”
We can safely reserve judgement on that.
“…the sitting Sheriff in Bedford County refuses to meet with me… The lead investigator won’t meet with the four of us…”
Is that such a big surprise? Sheriff Mike Brown and Major Ricky Gardner are merely displaying good judgement here. Anyone quite so eager to exculpate a particularly brutal murderer, morally corrupt to his core, is always likely to find meetings and appointments hard to arrange.
The only question remaining now is whether the Virginia Parole Board and its investigators are themselves tempted to buy the Brooklyn Bridge. The hope and expectation must be that they’re a little too smart to fall for such highly pernicious, totally fraudulent claims of good title.
The circus continues with the recent introduction of Irwin Cotler to Soering’s team. Now approaching 79 and doubtless a fine lawyer in his day, he crashed in like a Canada goose that lost its bearings, dazed and bewildered. One has to ask what he actually brings, aside from a truculent display of his own gullibility along with threats and imprecations worthy of Lear in his dotage. This is just throwing raw meat to the ravenous fans in the cheap seats. The facts and the evidence remain the same, so nothing changes, as usual. But it’s probably another indication of how much money very wealthy people are willing to spend in order to get their own way. It must make Jens Soering one of the most extravagantly-indulged prisoners in history, as well as one the most guilty.
“Pray, do not mock me. I am a very foolish fond old man.”
King Lear (IV.7.59-60)
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