In Depth

Man jailed for 1985 US double murder returns to Germany

Jens Soering served 33 years in prison over deaths of his girlfriend’s parents

A man convicted as a teenager in the 1980s of the double murder of his girlfriend’s parents has returned to his native Germany after serving 33 years in prison in the US.

The BBC reports that 53-year-old Jens Soering was “smiling as he was greeted by friends and supporters on arrival at Frankfurt airport on Tuesday”, with Soering describing it as “the happiest day of my life”. 

Soering and his Canadian girlfriend Elizabeth Haysom were convicted in 1985 for the murder of Haysom’s parents. But the case remained controversial after Soering went back on his initial confession, claiming he had admitted to the crimes to save Haysom from the death sentence.

What happened in 1985?

Soering, then 18, and his then girlfriend Haysom, 20, had been dating for a number of months when in March 1985 Haysom’s parents – Derek and Nancy Haysom – were found stabbed and nearly decapitated at their home in Virginia.

The victims’ throats had been slashed and they had been stabbed nearly 50 times during the attack, with Sky News reporting that the crime attracted “national media attention in America”.

Soering and Haysom were not initially considered suspects, but as investigators became suspicious the pair fled to London. In 1986 they were arrested on unrelated fraud charges, with Soering eventually confessing to the stabbings.

He originally claimed that he committed the murders while Haysom waited for him at a hotel in Georgetown, Washington DC, The Washington Post reports, but he later retracted his statement and pleaded not guilty. Instead, he said that he waited at the hotel while Haysom committed the murders in revenge for sexual abuse suffered at the hands of her mother.

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The Washington Post adds that Soering, as the son of a German diplomat, had believed his father’s job would afford him a form of diplomatic immunity that would limit his punishment to 10 years in a German youth prison. Soering also claims that he confessed in order to avoid Haysom being sentenced to death.

Soering was convicted and sentenced to two life terms in a 1990 trial. Haysom was also handed a 90-year sentence as an accessory to the murders.

What happened next?

During his trial, Sky News reports, Haysom testified against Soering, telling the court “she manipulated him into committing the murders because her parents wanted to end their daughter’s relationship with him”. But Soering has maintained that she only told him about what had happened after she committed the murders.

As part of a lengthy legal battle to secure his release, Soering’s parole was rejected 14 times, the Daily Mail reports.

In his pardon applications, Soering and his lawyers argued that “DNA evidence unavailable at the time of his conviction pointed to his innocence”, the paper adds, noting that later DNA analyses “showed that some of the Type O blood found at the scene did not belong to Soering” or Haysom.

Soering has suggested in interviews that Haysom may have enlisted the help of others in the killings – a charge she denies. Soering and Haysom were both granted parole last month and deported from the US.

During his incarceration, Soering converted from Buddhism to Roman Catholicism and wrote an award-winning book about his religious beliefs. 

What will happen next?

The Guardian reports that Peter Beyer, a member of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party and the government’s coordinator for transatlantic relations, was among those who met Soering at the airport.

The paper adds that Soering’s mother died while he was in prison and he has said he is now estranged from his father. 

He did not say where he planned to live in Germany and took no questions at the airport.

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