Britain Ponders Whether to Extradite Soering
LONDON (AP) _ Jens Soering is in a London jail and Britain has a dilemma: send him to Virginia, where he could face execution if convicted of murder, or violate its extradition treaty by honoring a European Court order not to do so.
Soering, whose father is the West German consul in Detroit, is accused of helping his American girlfriend, Elizabeth Haysom, kill her wealthy parents in March 1985 in Lynchburg, Va. A Bedford County grand jury indicted them on murder charges after they fled to London.
Miss Haysom, now 24, returned home in May 1987 without fighting extradition, admitted being an accessory and was sentenced to 90 years in prison.
Authorities say Soering, 22, has admitted participating in the killings but has given differing accounts of the circumstances. He has been in a south London jail for three years while fighting extradition to the United States.
On July 7, the European Court of Human Rights decided Soering must not be extradited because, if convicted, he might spend years on Death Row awaiting execution. That would violate his human rights, it said.
The court is a branch of the 23-nation Council of Europe, to which Britain belongs, and its decisions are not binding but rarely are ignored. If Britain abides by the ruling, it will violate its 1972 extradition treaty with the United States.
″Our practice is to abide by the rulings of the European Court,″ said an official of the Home Office, which has indicated an announcement was possible as early as Friday. His statement appeared to be a hint against extradition.
Lawyers say Soering probably will be returned to West Germany, which also has sought his extradition and is willing to try him. German law allows trials for crimes committed in other countries.
Louis Blom-Cooper, a leading British lawyer, said the case illustrates the difference between Western Europe, where capital punishment is effectively outlawed, and the United States, where Virginia and 35 other states have capital punishment.
The court ruling, rather than citing the death penalty, deplored the ″Death Row phenomenon″ by which convicts spent an average of six to eight years awaiting execution while their cases go through lengthy appeals process.
″It’s all very well for them (U.S. authorities) to beat their breasts, but we live in a civilized world that does not impose Death Row,″ Blom-Cooper said.
Bedford County prosecutor James W. Updike Jr. said the European Court ″is essentially stating that the Constitution of the United States and the system of justice we have in this country violates human rights. I can’t accept that.″
″I do not know of any country ... that provides any better protection for human rights,″ he said in a British Broadcasting Corp. television program broadcast Sunday.
Britain ordered Soering extradited in August 1988, but then the European Court accepted his case. It ruled that what might await him in the United States violated his rights under the European human rights convention, which forbids ″inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.″
Lawyers say the ruling means European countries will have to consider the treatment suspects could face when sent to another country.
Britain routinely asks the U.S. federal government in capital cases for assurances that the suspect will not be executed if convicted.
″The federal authorities can’t give a cast-iron guarantee on behalf of the state authorities,″ said Pam Teare, a Home Office spokeswoman. ″What is agreed is that the state authorities will be informed of the very strict recommendation of the British government that the death penalty should not be imposed.″
In 1984, Britain ignored a pending plea before the European Court and extradited an American, Ernest Kirkwood, who was charged with killing two men in San Francisco. Another American, Scott Errico, charged in Florida with three contract killings, was sent home for trial in 1987.
The Home Office said both were convicted of lesser charges and escaped the death penalty.