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West German Wins Fight Against Extradition to the United States

July 7, 1989

STRASBOURG, France (AP) _ The European Court of Human Rights ruled today that a West German accused of killing two people in Virginia should not be extradited to the United States because he could receive the death penalty.

The court said the threat of the death penalty is a violation of Jens Soering’s human rights. Soering is being held in Britain.

Rulings by the court do not technically bind the members of the Council of Europe, but they are rarely ignored. Britain said it would study the ruling.

Court officials called the judgment a landmark ruling because the court normally issues such decisions only after a human rights abuse has occurred.

Jim Updike, the Bedford County, Va., prosecutor heading the case against Soering, said the decision was ″illogical.″ ″He is guilty of the extremely brutal murder of two human beings,″ Updike told The Associated Press.

The court said if Soering is found guilty in Virginia, he faces years on death row and capital punishment. Such punishment would breach his rights under the European Human Rights Convention, it said.

Article 3 of the charter says: ″No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.″

Sending 22-year-old Soering to Virginia ″would expose him to a real risk of treatment going beyond the threshold set by Article 3,″ the court ruled.

It said a promise by Virginia justice officials to ask the courts to spare his life if he is found guilty was insufficient because it ″did not eliminate the risk of a death sentence.″

Soering, who moved to the United States in 1977, was charged in the March 30, 1985, killings of William and Nancy Haysom in their Bedford County home. They were the parents of Elizabeth Haysom, his girlfriend at the time.

She is serving a 90-year sentence for her part in the killings.

The parents of Soering’s girlfried were stabbed to death in an argument over Soering’s relationship with their daughter, which the parents opposed.

Soering evaded arrest in Virginia but was arrested in Britain in April 1986 on a check fraud charge. In 1988, Britain agreed to extradite him, but Soering took his case to the human rights court, an arm of the 23-nation Council of Europe.

Britain is likely now to send Soering back to West Germany, which requested his extradition in 1987 to let him stand trial there for the Virginia murders.

In London, a spokesman for the Home Office, which handles law enforcement and immigration, said only that the ruling will be studied.

″We will need to consider the judgment fully and carefully,″ he said.

One consideration for Britain is its interest in preserving the 1986 extradition treaty with the United States. Britain is currently seeking extradition of an Irish Republican Army member convicted of murder in Britain who later escaped from prison and was arrested in the United States.

The European Court of Human Rights did not say what Britain should do with Soering. But Judge Rolf Ryssdal of Norway, the court president who read the ruling, said trying Soering in West Germany ″would not involve suffering of such exceptional intensity or duration.″

West Germany abolished the death sentence in 1949. Under its laws, nationals can be tried for crimes in another country. If convicted in West Germany, Soering faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 to 15 years.

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