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Nance responds to Sheriff Harding

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Albemarle sheriff believes Soering should be released

By Tom Wilmoth

    While commending Albemarle County Sheriff J.E. “Chip” Harding for his service, Bedford County Commonwealth’s Attorney Wes Nance doesn’t agree with the stance that Governor Terry McAuliffe should pardon convicted double-murderer Jens Soering.
    Three months ago Rosenfield had asked Harding if he would  review the Soering investigation and trial for the 1985 murders of Bedford County residents Derek and Nancy Haysom. A press release about the letter, from Harding, states that he put more than 200 hours of investigation, pro bono, prior to writing his letter in support of Soering.

    But Nance takes issue with just what Harding studied during that investigation.
    Nance said the Albemarle sheriff focused on documents, interviews and other materials that have been used by those fighting for Soering’s release, while failing to deal with those who worked the entire case against Soering through his confessions, arrest and trial.
    Harding’s investigation also includes watching a documentary filmed as an attempt to promote Soering’s innocence.
    The only interview with a Bedford County deputy comes from an investigator involved with the start of the case, but not throughout its entirety.
    In addition, Nance said Soering’s co-defendant, Elizabeth Haysom, the daughter of Derek and Nancy Haysom, continues to acknowledge the role both she and Soering played in the murders.
    “Sheriff Harding’s investigation is somewhat incomplete and lopsided,” Nance said. “That’s where my concerns are with his conclusions.”
    Nance said he also disagrees with the characterizations of then Commonwealth’s Attorney James Updike, now the Bedford County Circuit Court Judge.
    Harding’s characterizations are “not consistent with  the person I have practiced with the past 16 years,” Nance said, stating Updike is a “model of professionalism and ethics.”
    Nance said Soering, who has failed to get a judicial ruling for his side, has now turned to a political method to try and secure a pardon or parole.
    Nance said the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office is serving as a resource for the investigators convinced of Soering’s guilt and that he is in regular contact with the Sheriff’s Department concerning the issue.
    “The Sheriff’s Office actively sends letters countering the claims of Soering and his attorneys,” Nance said.
    The press release from Harding about his letter states that his actions are believed that this is the first time in Virginia’s history that an active sheriff has written such a letter of support to a pardon request.
    Harding stated in his letter that he began his examination  with knowledge of the case gained over the years from the news. He assumed Soering was probably guilty and he was in agreement with Governor McDonnell’s move to block Soering from being released to Germany.
    But now Harding states he has reached a conclusion that Soering could not be convicted today on the evidence that has since surfaced or was improperly submitted or omitted from the jury. He further states the evidence appears to support a case for his innocence.
    Harding’s letter follows letters of support written in recent years by two retired investigators that have also reviewed Soering’s case. Former Bedford Sheriff Investigator Chuck Reid, who was one of the investigators at the beginning of the investigation on the Haysom murders in 1985 reached the same conclusion as Harding.  Former Prince William County Police Department, Master Detective and first President of the “Virginia Homicide Association” Dave Watson, worked on the case for a year as a hired private investigator, wrote a letter in 2012 stating  that there was not enough evidence to convict beyond a reasonable doubt, noted Harding.
    Harding concludes his letter by stating:  “Based on my training and experience, almost every piece of evidence raised by the prosecution is subject to inaccuracies, unreliabilities, and scientific contradictions. The jury was misled in many places, and the lead defense lawyer was mentally ill and later disbarred. The result was that the defense counsel was mediocre at best. The jury was not aware of significant evidence contradicting the prosecution’s case, and the defense failed to raise those contradictions.  This was not a just outcome for the many reasons raised above.”