COVER SIDEBAR- Tragic tale: From Echols Scholar to two life sentences

Until last November, when Andrew Alston was charged with the murder of local firefighter Walker Sisk, Jens Soering had the dubious distinction of being UVA's only recent student-turned-alleged murderer.

Soering's fall from young man with unlimited promise to hopeless "lifer" started in the fall of 1984 when the German diplomat's son entered UVA on a Jefferson Scholarship, a prestigious free-ride for top students. As both a Jefferson and Echols Scholar, Soering quickly met up with another young high achiever, Elizabeth Haysom.

On March 30, 1985, her parents were brutally slain at their home in Bedford County, just outside of Lynchburg.

After becoming suspects and fleeing authorities, Soering and Haysom were eventually captured in England where they'd been supporting themselves by exploiting the liberal return policy of an upscale department store called Marks & Spencer. But stealing was the least of their crimes.

Although Soering at first confessed to the killings, he later alleged that it was Haysom who had killed her parents. In 1987, she pleaded guilty as an accessory and received a 90-year sentence, which she is now serving at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.

Soering, however, recanted his confession and fought extradition. After a long international wrangle, Bedford County prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty, and in the summer of 1990, Soering was convicted of the double murder– despite the absence of solid forensic evidence connecting him to the scene. He continues to attack, in appeals and on, the "sock print" evidence that allegedly connected him to the crime scene.

"He's selective," says Captain Ricky Gardner, who headed the Soering investigation for the Bedford Sheriff's Office. "If you look at the whole case– from A to Z– there's no doubt about his guilt."

Gardner notes three separate and allegedly consistent confessions including Soering's specific complaint that he would have turned off the porch light at the house where the Haysoms were killed if he could have found the switch (it was in the master bedroom).

"He doesn't want to talk about that," says Gardner, "or about the man who saw him at the memorial service with the bruise and the wound on his hand– or the type-O blood found at the scene."

"I continue to believe that he is innocent of the charges he was convicted of," says Gail Starling Marshall, a lawyer who spent several years in the late 1990s taking Soering's habeas corpus case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Soering's first book, The Way of the Prisoner­ Breaking the Chains of Self through Centering Prayer and Centering Practice, was published by Lantern Books last year. His second book, An Expensive Way to Make Bad People Worse­ An Essay on Prison Reform from an Insider's Perspective, was released by Lantern earlier this month.

Although in a recent essay in the Hook ["No mercy: What Alston can expect," May 6, 2004], Soering described his narrow escape from a prison rape, his time behind bars has had other traumas. In late April, he returned to his cell after breakfast and found his cellmate of a year hanging by a shoelace.

Jens Soering in the UVA's 1985 edition of UVA's yearbook.


Jens Soering at Brunswick Correctional Center.