Jens Soering. If you’re not already familiar with this name, take some time to learn it because it is likely that his will be a household name before the end of the 2012 Senate campaign.
Here’s the abbreviated version of his story: in 1985, Soering—a German national and son of a West German diplomat—was an 18 year-old, first-year student at the University of Virginia when he was accused of brutally murdering his girlfriend’s parents, Derek and Nancy Haysom, in their Bedford County home. Shortly after the murders, Soering and his girlfriend fled to London where they were apprehended by British authorities and eventually extradited to Virginia. At the trial, Jens Soering admitted to murdering the Haysoms and was sentenced to two life sentences.
Fast-forward to January 2010: while Tim Kaine was preparing to leave the Governor’s Mansion, he approved Jens Soering’s request to be returned to his native Germany where it was estimated he could serve—at most—two additional years in prison. Almost immediately after assuming office, Gov. Bob McDonnell intervened and Soering was forced to remain in Virginia, behind bars at the Buckingham Correctional Center.
While former Governor Kaine’s actions were roundly criticized at the time, especially by the Bedford County law enforcement community that worked so hard to bring the Haysoms’ murder to justice, the most thorough examination of them may lie ahead, as the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) recently filed Freedom of Information Act requests with a number of agencies at both the state and federal levels, seeking internal Kaine Administration documents on the former governor’s deliberations on Soering’s transfer agreement.
When questioned about the NRSC’s investigation, Tim Kaine told the Associated Press that he had “no regrets”: “‘From my time on the City Council in 1994 to the end of my time as governor, I’ve made decisions that people could argue with,’…. ‘Even if they disagree with you on an issue, they can respect that someone with conviction is in the position.’” Kaine went on to offer two possible explanations for his actions in the Soering case: first, “‘I frankly thought that I wouldn’t see my name on a ballot again’….” and second, “‘…I did feel like Virginians have paid for his incarceration for a very long time, let the Germans pay to keep this guy.’” The reader can decide for himself or herself, which explanation seems more plausible.
Nonetheless, it is easy to understand why the NRSC is so keenly interested in the former governor’s decision to return Jens Soering to Germany—especially if George Allen emerges as the Republican nominee: what could make for a more interesting campaign narrative than “the former governor who abolished parole vs. the former governor who tried to return a convicted double-murderer to his native country where he might only serve an additional two years in prison”? If that is the contrast voters have in mind when they cast their ballots on November 6, 2012, the NRSC is betting it can win that race. It might be a safe bet, too.