Wednesday, January 20, 2010
McDonnell moves to revoke Soering transfer to German prison
It is unclear whether Gov. Bob McDonnell's letter to the U.S. attorney general can void the transfer agreement made by former Gov. Tim Kaine.
Gov. Bob McDonnell has moved to revoke a transfer agreement that would allow convicted double-murderer Jens Soering to be moved to a prison in his native Germany.
From today's paper
Previous coverage: Last week
McDonnell sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Tuesday night saying that a transfer request made by former Gov. Tim Kaine no longer represents Virginia’s official position on the matter.
“I was not privy to Governor Kaine’s letter nor was I, as Governor-elect, consulted on his actions,” McDonnell wrote. “ However, since taking office on January 16, 2010, my staff has been contacted by several Virginia legislators and other public officials. Further, I have been previously contacted by the Attorney General of Virginia about this matter. My staff has reviewed the case with members of the Attorney General’s staff, the Bedford County Commonwealth’s Attorney, and the Bedford County Sheriff. All parties are in agreement that Virginia must oppose this transfer. I believe that as the Governor of Virginia, with custody of Jens Soering, I am responsible for ensuring that justice is done. It is imperative that Soering serve out his punishment in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Consequently, I hereby revoke Virginia’s consent to the transfer of Soering to the federal government.”
It is unclear whether McDonnell’s letter (PDF) can void the transfer agreement. A statement issued by the governor’s office this afternoon said McDonnell was “confident that the Department of Justice will respect Virginia’s position and move expeditiously to close this matter.”
Former Gov. Tim Kaine recommended Soering’s transfer last week, just four days before leaving office. Kaine offered no public explanation for his decision, which has been criticized by public officials, victims’ family members and law enforcement authorities in Bedford County, where Soering was convicted for the 1985 stabbing deaths of Derek and Nancy Haysom. Soering is serving two life sentences at Brunswick Correctional Center.
Under a transfer agreement with the German government, Soering would serve at least two years in a German prison before becoming eligible for release. Soering, who initially confessed to the crime but has maintained his innocence ever since, has been eligible for parole in Virginia but has been denied. He has been in prison 23 years.
Soering, a former University of Virginia honors student, was the boyfriend of the Haysoms’ daughter Elizabeth when the murders occurred. Haysom, who was also a UVa student at the time, pleaded guilty as an accessory to the murders and is serving a 90-year-prison sentence. She testified against Soering.
Risque Benedict, brother of Nancy Haysom, said he and other family members have been in touch with the McDonnell administration and are counting on the Republican governor to thwart the transfer.
"We sure hope we can get this done," said Benedict, of Florida.
Benedict said he was caught completely off guard by the announcement last week that Kaine had forwarded to the Justice Department a request to transfer Soering to a German prison. Benedict expressed anger and dismay at the possibility that Soering could be free two years after going to Germany, and he vowed to keep fighting the transfer even if McDonnell fails.
"We'll go through the national government if we have to," he said. "We're going to get this done, one way or another."
Kaine sent the transfer request to the Justice Department on Jan. 12, but the administration did not reveal details about it until last Friday, Kaine’s last full day in office. Aides said Kaine considered the transfer request carefully, having earlier denied Soering’s petition for clemency. Kaine aides said the former governor received certain assurances from the German government that made him comfortable with recommending the transfer.