Opinion: Tim Kaine Owes Virginia an Explanation About Jens Soering 

click to enlarge back32_kaine.jpg

Scott Elmquist

I hate to be the one to rain — or even sprinkle — all over the merry Tim Kaine parade.

But someone has to.

It’s time to shake off the he’s-so-much-nicer-than-Hillary-and-he-speaks-Spanish euphoria to ask the Democratic running mate to explain his conduct during his final days in Virginia’s Executive Mansion.

The issue concerns a convicted murderer serving life in prison and Kaine’s last-minute move to quietly spring him.

We’re going to talk about Jens Soering today.

Members of the national press corps ought to be asking Kaine about the Soering matter every day — at least until the veep hopeful from Virginia comes up with a sensible explanation for why he tried to set this man free.

I emailed Kaine’s Senate spokeswoman, asking for one. No word. Granted, she’s probably pretty busy.

In case you weren’t living in Virginia in 1985 when a grisly double murder in Bedford County sickened most normal people, here are a few of the facts:

Derek Haysom, 72, and Nancy Haysom, 53, were stabbed to death in their Boonsboro home that March. According to a 20-year retrospective on the crime in The Roanoke Times, both were knifed repeatedly. Derek Haysom was nearly beheaded. His wife’s throat was slit.

At the time of the killings Soering, a student at the University of Virginia, was dating another student, the Haysoms’ daughter, Elizabeth.

The Haysoms reportedly disapproved of that relationship. With good reason, as it turned out.

Authorities spent considerable time investigating the crime before turning their attention to the daughter and her boyfriend. Shortly after they were questioned, the duo fled the country. They hopscotched around the globe, surfacing in England in May 1986, where they were arrested on check-fraud charges.

Elizabeth Haysom was quickly sent back to the United States, where she pleaded guilty to being an accessory. She was sentenced to 90 years.

Soering fought extradition and was delivered to Virginia only after authorities agreed to reduce capital charges that carried the death penalty to first-degree murder.

Soering recanted earlier confessions and began to blame his girlfriend. He said he initially confessed because he believed that his father’s status as a diplomat would give him diplomatic immunity.

Soering was convicted and sentenced to two life terms in 1990. He’s incarcerated in the Buckingham Correctional Center.

One of Kaine’s final acts in office was to ask the U.S. Justice Department to transfer Soering to a German prison. There he would serve about two years before being eligible for release.

Had this eleventh-hour chicanery been successful, Soering — a man who butchered two Americans and was sentenced to spend his life in prison — would be a free man. Dancing in trendy Munich clubs, guzzling German beer.

Immediately after taking office, Gov. Bob McDonnell asked the Justice Department to halt the transfer. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder blocked the move.

Kaine has, on occasion, been asked about the Soering matter. His explanations have been unsatisfactory.

For instance, at a Richmond debate during his Senate campaign, Kaine said he wanted to return Soering to Germany because he believed the convict would have been banned from re-entering the country.

Kaine said if a foreigner commits a crime in the United States, we should “kick ’em out as soon as we safely can.”

In an interview with The Associated Press, Kaine said his decision was a desire to save money.

“He is not a sympathetic character, that’s true,” Kaine said of Soering. “I would never grant him clemency. I did feel like Virginians have paid for his incarceration for a very long time — let the Germans pay to keep this guy.”

The public deserves better explanations for such an appalling lapse in judgment. We’re still waiting. S

Kerry Dougherty is a columnist for The Virginian-Pilot. Pilot news researcher Maureen Watts contributed to this column.

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