ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — It was a case that rocked a small community: Two University of Virginia students were arrested for gruesome murders.
Jens Soering, the son of a German diplomat, and his girlfriend, Elizabeth Haysom, the daughter of a wealthy couple, were both convicted of planning and brutally murdering Haysom’s parents in Lynchburg in 1985.
For decades, Soering has claimed his innocence saying he made a false confession.
“In 1985 when this was going down I was a full-time narcotics officer,” Albemarle County Sheriff Chip Harding recalled.
For more than 30 years, Harding worked to put people behind bars as a police officer, but in the past few years the sheriff has put his investigation skills toward trying to free the innocent.
“A wrongful conviction is like horrendous,” Harding said.
Harding says Soering’s attorney, who has been working for years to get him pardoned, asked him a few months ago to take a look at the case.
“You know I hadn’t really planned on spending much time on this because I thought he was guilty,” said Harding. “By that evening I had read everything he gave me, I said, ‘man I’m interested in this.’”
Harding spent more than 200 hours poring over case files and came to the conclusion that there was not enough evidence to convict Soering. He says he’s seen a number of holes in the case, including blood at the crime scene.
“Who do we know affiliated with the case type “O” Jens Soering. It’s where he left blood after he committed these acts. That has been DNA tested and we know conclusively now he has been completely eliminated, that is not his blood,” Harding explained.
Now, Harding has sent a 19-page letter to the governor asking him to pardon Soering — a man he’s only met once — for the murders.
“I don’t even really know him,” Harding said. “I told him, ‘man don’t worry about me liking you, that has nothing to do with it,’ it’s all about the evidence,” said Harding.
Harding says he’s already being berated for his efforts, but he says this is not about letting a guilty man walk.
“I want to see an innocent person pardoned and I’d like to see the guilty people apprehended,” he said.
We reached out to the governor’s office for reaction to Harding’s letter but have yet to hear back.