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Former U.Va. students granted parole for 1985 murders, will be deported by ICE

They will be released by immigration officials to Canada and Germany, respectively

Jens Soering, as pictured in a 1986 article in The Cavalier Daily.
Jens Soering, as pictured in a 1986 article in The Cavalier Daily.

The Virginia State Parole Board voted Monday to release two former University students who were convicted of murder in 1985 to immigration authorities. Elizabeth Haysom and Jens Soering — who met at the University in the mid 1980s — will be deported by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to Canada and Germany, respectively.

Chair of the Virginia Parole Board Adrianne L. Bennett released a statement regarding the decision.

"The years-long exhaustive investigation for a genuine search for the truth revealed that Jens Soering’s claims of innocence are without merit," Bennett said. "They are both now in their mid-50’s and have served over 33 years for the horrific crimes that they committed. Their release and permanent expulsion from the United States is a tremendous cost benefit to the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Virginia and we have determined that their release does not pose a risk to public safety."

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s office released a statement regarding the surprising decision as well.

“The Governor was . . . 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,” Northam’s office said. “Governor Northam respects the Parole Board’s expertise and appreciates their work on this and all other cases.”

The decision came after 14 failed bids for parole from Soering, who is serving two consecutive life sentences for the brutal 1985 murders of Nancy and Derek Haysom, the parents of his then-girlfriend Elizabeth Haysom, who is serving a 90-year sentence for her involvement in the slaughters.

Haysom and Soering were both honor students at the University and received substantial scholarships through the Jefferson Scholars Foundation. Soering was the son of a German Diplomat working for the consulate in Detroit and Haysom was the daughter of Derek Haysom, a South African steel executive and World War II veteran, and Nancy Haysom, an artist and distant relative of Lady Astor — the first female Member of the British Parliament.

Their relationship seemed unlikely as Haysom was described as a well-to-do socialite with a history of drug addiction and Soering as socially awkward and insecure. 

When Derek and Nancy Haysom were discovered brutally murdered in their Bedford County home in April 1985, an investigator described the crime scene as a “slaughterhouse.” Derek Haysom was stabbed 36 times and Nancy Haysom six times — both were nearly decapitated.

Haysom and Soering were not suspects in the case at first. 

The couple fled the country in October 1985 but were then arrested for bank fraud in England in April 1986 after using bad checks. Upon Soering telling London investigators where they were staying, a search at the property revealed journals and letters containing the names Chuck Reid and Ricky Gardner — both who were investigators for the murders of the Haysoms.

After connecting Haysom and Soering to the Virginia investigation, the pair were extradited to the U.S. on the condition that the death penalty would not be carried out. The death penalty had been abolished in Great Britain and the decision to extradite Soering was carried out in the landmark Soering v. The United Kingdom case, which dealt with the potential human rights violations of extraditing a German national who faced murder charges in the U.S.

Initially, Soering confessed to the murders but recanted after realizing that his status as a German national would not protect him from serving a lengthy sentence. He claims that his confession was a bid to protect Haysom from the death penalty. Haysom maintained throughout the trial and her imprisonment that she was an accessory but did not physically commit the murders and that Soering was responsible.

In June 1990, Soering pleaded not guilty but was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Derek and Nancy Haysom in a widely sensationalized, internationally followed trial. Haysom pleaded guilty and was convicted for being an accessory to murder before the fact.

In recent years, the case has been revisited and reviewed — a 2009 blood analysis conducted by an expert hired by Soering concludes that the blood at the scene of the crime came from another male and not Soering.

Throughout his 33-year time in prison, Soering has maintained his innocence and has picked up endorsements from celebrities, law enforcement and from the international community. Albemarle County Sheriff J. E. “Chip” Harding, who has worked on the case for several years, was pleased with the Virginia State Parole Board’s decision.

“I’m ecstatic,” Harding said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. “He still claims that he's innocent, and we feel like the evidence tends to support that claim. We definitely feel that the evidence no longer exists that if he was given a new trial, he’d be convicted. And the evidence tends to support the fact that he’s completely innocent of even being there when the murders were committed, so having said that, the fact that they paroled him is fantastic.”

However, not everyone is satisfied with the Virginia State Parole Board’s decision. Congressman Ben Cline, R-Va., released a statement regarding the decision as well.

“I am shocked and appalled by the Virginia State Parole Board’s decision to grant parole to Jens Soering and Elizabeth Haysom,” Cline said. “The impact of the Haysoms’ murder is still felt by the Bedford community today. 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.”