RICHMOND — A former German diplomat’s son who is serving life in prison for killing two people is hoping new evidence will win his parole. Meanwhile, the woman convicted of helping him kill her parents maintains they are both guilty and belong in prison.
On Monday, an attorney for Jens Soering mailed Gov. Bob McDonnell the sworn statement of a Lynchburg man who says Elizabeth Haysom and another man brought a bloody car into his transmission shop months after her parents were killed in 1985. In the documents and in an interview, Tony Buchanan says he has attempted to tell others about the visit over the years, but nothing came of it.
Buchanan’s statement is the latest in a series of new evidence Soering’s attorneys have produced in an attempt to win his freedom.
Last month, they sent McDonnell a 2009 DNA test on decades-old biological evidence from the scene of the fatal stabbing that excluded both Soering and Haysom as suspects. Experts have said the DNA tests are not proof of innocence.
Long out of appeals, Soering is asking McDonnell to parole him and deport him back to Germany.
He came close to returning there last year when former Gov. Timothy M. Kaine approved a request days before he left office to transfer Soering to a German prison, where he could have been free after two years. McDonnell rescinded that approval when he took office, and the federal government refused the transfer.
Soering said he understands that granting him a pardon would be politically unpopular, which is why he’s asking only to be paroled and sent home. He has been eligible for parole since 2003.
“I am not trying to make any more of a nuisance of myself than I absolutely have to,” said Soering, 44, in an interview at Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn. “I need to go home. I know I didn’t do this. I don’t need Virginia to tell me I didn’t do it.”
In a letter to the AP from Haysom, who has declined media interviews since being sentenced to 90 years in prison for her role in the slaying of her parents, she said Soering’s claims that he is innocent are false.
“He is right to blame me. I involved him in a horrible crime,” Haysom said. “The bottom line, however, is that we are equally responsible for the murder of my parents. And we both deserve incarceration.”
Soering and Haysom met as honors students at the University of Virginia. Months after Derek and Nancy Haysom were stabbed and nearly decapitated in their Bedford County home, police closed in on the pair. They fled the country, traveling around Europe before being arrested in London.
Both confessed, but Soering later said he only did so because he thought he had diplomatic immunity through his father and wanted to save Haysom from the death penalty.
She pleaded guilty and testified against Soering. Soering fought extradition for three years before returning for a sensational, televised trial in which he was convicted in 1990 and sentenced to two life terms.
In prison, Soering has written books proclaiming his innocence and gathered international support for his release.
Haysom said Soering’s “drive and intensity were once very attractive to me,” but she said they are both guilty.
“I am fully aware of the layers of my guilt, of my culpability, of betrayals to my family and to Jens,” Haysom wrote. “If he were innocent, if he were in any way not guilty, I would shout it from the roof tops.”
Buchanan has his doubts. The 69-year-old believes another man helped Haysom kill her parents.
A few months after the murders, a car was towed to his shop about 10 to 15 miles away from the Haysoms’ home. Buchanan said there was dried blood in the driver’s side floorboard and a knife with what appeared to be dried blood on the console between the front seats. The car’s undercarriage was covered with grass and mud and appeared to have been sitting in the woods for a while, he remembers.
An avid hunter, Buchanan said he assumed the blood was from a deer someone had killed.
Weeks later a young woman and man came to pick up the vehicle, a later model, light-colored car similar to a Nova or Camero. She tried to pay with a credit card, but it was initially declined. She made a call to the bank and another call to someone in Florida, then the card was accepted, he said.
Buchanan didn’t think much of it until a few months later when he saw Haysom’s picture in media reports, which also mentioned a man being involved in the murders. Thinking police had their killers, Buchanan said he didn’t feel the need to report what he had seen.
“As far as I was concerned, they already had the people, had the goods on them, tied up in a tight bow,” he said.
It wasn’t until he saw a picture of Soering upon his conviction that he felt the wrong man was convicted, he said. Soering was a small man with thick glasses and dark hair. The man with Haysom was a clean-cut, tall man with lighter hair and no glasses, Buchanan said.
“I really thought that whoever was in my shop had something to do with it,” he said. “I know it wasn’t Soering.”
Buchanan said over the years he has told his story to Soering’s appeal attorney, the judge in the case and, a few months ago, to police, but nothing has come of it.
Bedford County Sheriff’s Maj. Ricky Gardner, the lead investigator in the case, said he never talked to Buchanan. He said he’s sure Buchanan believes he’s doing the right thing, but that all other evidence points to Soering as the murderer.
“He has convinced himself that he didn’t do it,” Gardner said of Soering.
Buchanan said he wishes he would have come forward sooner. He’s not sure if Soering is innocent, but he believes there’s enough doubt that he should be sent back to Germany.
In a letter to McDonnell, Soering attorney Gail Ball points to the new evidence and the DNA tests as grounds for his parole.
“As a former commonwealth’s attorney, you know that no jury would have convicted Mr. Soering under these circumstances,” she writes to McDonnell.
McDonnell’s spokesman says the governor is reviewing the information.
Soering says he will continue to fight for his release. Haysom spends her days training dogs and transcribing textbooks into Braille at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.
“I have a much better life than I probably deserve and I am grateful,” she said.