Panel talks about injustices with wrongful conviction cases

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Dozens of students and faculty members from the University of Virginia School of Law joined several panelists at a fundraiser for the Virginia Innocence Project Pro Bono Clinic to talk about injustices in the criminal system and the wrongful convictions people have faced throughout the country at Caplin Pavilion on Tuesday afternoon.

The panelists talked about their own experiences dealing with wrongful convictions, including Jarrett Adams.

Adams said he was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault when he was 17 years old and recalls the experience when he was exonerated from his charges.

"The judge appeared from the behind the door, the prosecutor stood up and said, 'your honor, we file a motion to dismiss all the charges and expunge the record,'" said Adams during the discussion.

Other panelists talked about cases seen throughout the country, including the Jens Soering case.

Soering was convicted of killing Derek and Nancy Haysom, the parents of his then-girlfriend Elizabeth Haysom, in 1985.

He confessed to the murders but later revealed that he made a false confession to protect Elizabeth, who was also found guilty in the case.

In April, a retired FBI agent along with a three other law enforcement officials called for a petition to pardon Soering to Governor Ralph Northam.

Since then, Albemarle County Sheriff Chip Harding said law enforcement officials found new evidence to support Soering's pardon and innocence.

"We discovered that there's another set of shoe impressions in the crime scene, which was not represented to the jury," said Harding. "I interviewed a couple of former suitemates of both her and Jens that they saw no cut hand or bandage on his hand or any bruise on his face."

In a letter sent in July, former Charlottesville Police Sergeant Richard Hudson states there are three different foot/shoe tread impressions that are different from the victims and Soering.

Jason Flom, a founding member of the national Innocence Project, brought it up during the panel and talked about his personal experience with the case.

He said he still talks with Soering and thinks he should be pardoned.

"There's no threat to society. Germany wants him back," said Flom. "This is coming from the highest levels from the chancellor from the former president, they want him home. We're so out of step with the rest of the world because how much is enough?"

Soering has been in prison for more than 30 years and his petition to pardon is still being reviewed.

However, people who were wrongfully convicted said Soering still has hope.

Darnell Phillips was convicted of raping a 10-year-old girl in Virginia Beach in 1991.

Phillips was released on parole last week after recent DNA testing and a recantation from the victim.

He said it's never too late for people who say they've been wrongfully convicted.

"Dig your heels in it. Don't give up your faith, don't give up your trust, don't give up your hope," said Phillips. "Just keep your head up man because the day will come when the truth will be completely unveiled."

A spokesperson for Northam's office said Soering's pardon is still being investigated by the parole board.

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