Executive order: Soering sues McDonnell for overstepping authority

news-kainesoeringTim Kaine, left, now chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has remained mum about his decision to send Jens Soering back to Germany.

Convicted murderer Jens Soering tasted the possibility of going home last year when outgoing Governor Tim Kaine okayed his transfer to Germany. However, one week later, newly sworn-in Governor Bob McDonnell revoked the transfer, and now Soering is suing McDonnell, arguing that he doesn't have the power to undo Kaine's signed agreement with Germany.

The lawsuit was first revealed in the Daily Progress, and a new analysis by a top constitutional scholar suggests that this is one prison lawsuit that won't quickly disappear.

Charlottesville attorney Steve Rosenfeld filed the suit for Soering in Richmond Circuit Court January 18 and says it raises important aspects on constitutional and statutory limits to the governor's power.

"Here a governor a few days in office revokes his predecessor's approval on an international treaty," says Rosenfield. "The concern Governor McDonnell ought to have is in the precedence he's set in revoking a predecessor's act, because surely he has to worry when he leaves office, a successor will do the same."

On January 19, 2010, three days after taking office, Governor McDonnell wrote to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder revoking Virginia's transfer of Soering to federal custody, which happens before a prisoner would be sent to Germany.

McDonnell acknowledges that Kaine's January 12, 2010, letter authorizing the transfer was "one of his official exercises of executive power." but points out that he was not consulted about the decision, and that after discussing it with incoming Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and the Bedford commonwealth's attorney and sheriff, officials in the community where Derek and Nancy Haysom lived and were murdered March 30, 1985, he decided, "It is imperative that Jens Soering serve out his punishment in the Commonwealth of Virginia."

So how far can a governor go in undoing the work of a predecessor?

Constitutional expert A.E. Dick Howard, a UVA law professor, notes that Virginia's constitution gives governors broad clemency powers, but that Kaine didn't actually pardon Soering.

"Kaine's decision is not a vested right," says Howard. "It's not a pardon, it's not a reprieve. It's simply a transfer. I think this is genetically different from a pardon case."

On the other hand, says Howard, Soering's motion to overturn McDonnell's decision "is not a frivolous motion. It does raise questions about a governor's power under Virginia law."

Soering was a Jefferson Scholar when he met Elizabeth Haysom at UVA in 1984. He confessed to the murder of her parents and was sentenced to two life sentences. Later, Soering said he confessed because he hoped his father's diplomatic status would protect him and spare Haysom from the death penalty. She pleaded guilty to being an accessory to murder, and is serving a 90-year sentence.

Kaine's decision to release Soering into what's widely seen as more lenient treatment in Germany joins his decision to bail out millionaire land speculators by placing a state park in Albemarle County's growth area as controversial acts that he has declined to address despite repeated requests for comment. He now chairs the Democratic National Committee.

“At this point in time we have not been served in this case," says McDonnell press secretary Tracy Thornley. "We will have further comment if and when that occurs.”

The attorney general's office will defend McDonnell, according to Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein, who says the AG has not seen the lawsuit either.

"However, last year you may remember that one of the first things both the governor and the attorney general did when they first got into office was to fight to keep Jens Soering in Virginia to serve the full length of his prison sentence," reminds Gottstein in an email. "If he had been released back to Germany, he could have been free in as little as two years."

Soering has been jailed since his arrest in London in 1986, and is now housed in the Buckingham Correctional facility in Dillwyn.

Last week was an eventful one for the 44-year-old, who's been imprisoned for almost 25 years. DNA testing from the state forensic lab found neither Soering nor Haysom's DNA in samples collected from the crime scene. That doesn't clear a suspect in a murder case, but it was enough for a Soering attorney to request that McDonnell parole and deport Soering back to Germany.


Soering does not have much of a case on this issue.What I find less than good here is the glib opinions on the case. If all you care is that he was found guilty, fine. Nothing to say. But a careful attention to the trial (which was on tv), documents at the time and later,suggest Soering may be innocent of the crime. May be. Certainly his defense was incompetent and his lawyer later disbarred.

Amy L. Let me say I do not assert Soering is innocent.Not am I a medical or legal professional,Im sorry however, I do not fully credit "I conclude (along with the VA forensic psychiatrist who evaluated her and whom she permitted me to interview) that Elizabeth could not have been present during her parents’ murders given her relationship with them.' That's more than we or anyone could know,,on the basis of an interview or examination. Forensic psyhiarists have been mistaken and her reputed history of drug use suggests a segmented personality that can best fool experts.

Keep that little weasel in jail here don't send him overseas where his daddy will get him released. I want the next generation to read he died of old age in jail.

As I understand it, Soering was doing his girlfriend's bidding, which, I hasten to add does not diminish the crime. Apparently she is getting what she deserves for murdering her parents or having it done for her. I see her as the prime mover in this crime.
While, if Soering goes to Germany, he may get a more lenient sentence, the Commonwealth of Virginia will be saving roughly $600,000 for his incarceration costs if he stays here. This doesn't include all the litigation costs incurred by the AG.
The murderous daughter is in prison, the weapon (Soering) is gone, and the taxpayers save a bundle.

Let's see if Cuccinelli can do his real job.

He should have gotten the death penalty when we had the chance.

This quy is not guilty

Let him free and send him to Germany



I was the only journalist to interview Elizabeth Haysom (along with more than 30 other principals in the case), and though I support her plea of accessory after the fact, I conclude (along with the VA forensic psychiatrist who evaluated her and whom she permitted me to interview) that Elizabeth could not have been present during her parents' murders given her relationship with them. To be sure, her actions caused Soering to commit murder, but she did not tell him to do it, nor did she pay him to do it. She basically said, "You're square if you don't..." so he did. All she expected was that he would drive around DC for an hour then change his mind so that she could continue to call him a wimp for not taking action. Complicated? Maybe, but any folie a deux is complicated. Do not send Soering to Germany; they will let him out. He doesn't deserve that privilege, whether he has been "rehabilitated" or not.

@ Howard former UVa staffer
All the better reason to offload him and save the Commonwealth a bunch of money.

@Biff Diggerance - wouldn't that be a refreshing change of pace!

Convicted in Virginia, he should stay in Virginia. The problem here is that a current administration can't be bound by a previous administration. We have this issue here locally with the City Council and Board of Supervisors. More things would get done if incoming administration would have to follow what had been planned and voted on. Our elected leaders would have to think more about what they are doing.

Please don't let him go! He will get plastic surgery in germany and return here later and get elected to city council. Or become a radio personality, one....

If germany wants to file suit for breach of contract they can show cause. If they want the murderer back so bad lets go to court. This guy has no legal standing in deciding his own fate and has no more right to sue than somone who was removed from a trust fund by his mother after his father passed. He may not like it but that is the way it goes. The "government" of Virginia has a right to change its mind. It is not for a court to interfere. Suppose Tim Kaine were still in office and he found out that this guy was the one who squealed to the press about his Bisquit run Bailout. Would he be allowed to change his mind if the guy had not yet been transferred? Of course he would.

If it were a pardon or commuting of the sentence it could not be undone.

What part of 'convicted murderer' does Soering not understand?

Exactely @ Chris! The man had been in prison for 30 years - innocent all that time. What a shame for the justice system. Statistically, about 1.3% of the prisoners in the US were convicted by mistake; they are innocent. In Virgina alone, that makes about 450. Doesn't that bother any of you guys? Can't you admit that the US, the administration and the justice system makes mistakes? I mean - everybody does, it's freakin human. So let him have a chance at least. He probably won't be called "innocent" in his lifetime, but let him go for crying out loud. Even if it's just about the money. I heard Americans could use it.

qLet him rot.

Wasn't it last year as a man came free after 35 years in prison? That mans innocence was attested through DNA analysis.
What if a man who says "I am innocent", is really innocent?
But innocent in this case or not, i dont know, god knows, i think this man is rehabilitated and should let go home

yeah, let him rot in an german prison