Roanoke Times Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: FRIDAY, June 8, 1990 TAG: 9006080151 SECTION: VIRGINIA PAGE: B1 EDITION: METRO SOURCE: Ed Shamy DATELINE: BEDFORD LENGTH: Medium
The audience files into a second-floor courtroom where Jens Soering is on trial on the 1985 murders of Derek and Nancy Haysom in their Boonsboro home.
At lunchtime, spectators gather in restaurants across the street and cross-town to review the morning's testimony. They are an armchair jury, intimate with most every detail.
As murder trials go, this one is glamorous.
"This one has it all," said Chris Tharp of Bedford. "Sex, drugs, money and murder."
Tharp was among about 60 trial spectators on Thursday.
He graduated from the University of Richmond last year, taught skiing last winter in Colorado and soon is off for Japan.
In between "there's this in little old Bedford. It's like a real-life soap opera," said Tharp.
The trial has been a hot seller in little old Bedford - lots of movie-theater operators wouldn't mind the steady business that files daily through the metal detectors into the courtroom.
Most of the regulars are older people, retired with time to indulge in a murder trial now and then. They nearly fill eight rows of straight-backed wooden pews, sitting politely and attentively even as testimony drags on through the minutiae that only a prosecutor could love.
Here and there in the placid sea of white-haired heads there are younger people - people who you'd think would have something better to do than sit through a two- or three-week murder trial.
Tharp, for one. He rides his bicycle to the courthouse, and he carries with him a novel to alleviate the spells of boredom.
One man from Christiansburg, who asked that his name not be used, was browsing through antique stores in Bedford six weeks ago when he was lured into the courthouse by the television news trucks parked outside.
He was hooked during those pretrial motions. He's laid off this week from the Volvo GM Heavy Truck Corp. plant in Dublin, and he's spending his time at the Soering trial.
Mark Davis has time off, too. He's 10 years old, and his fourth-grade classes are through for the year. His mom, Becky Ingram, is taking him to the trial.
"I just thought it might teach him something about life - about what can happen to intelligent people," said Ingram.
Mark hasn't been terribly impressed. He keeps a book with him - Thursday it was an animal encyclopedia full of color photos - to help him through the day.
What lures the crowd to this courtroom day after day?
Jens Soering does.
He is accused of murder, but his very appearance challenges our safe stereotype of a murderer. He is a pudgy young guy, a West German. His cheeks are rosy, his hands are slender and clean, he wears eyeglasses and is soft-spoken and polite to court officials.
Soering is the horrific vision of what we might look like, or someone we know might, if we were similarly bound in the snare of a lifetime.
That is the horror, as much as any macabre fascination with a 5-year-old murder, that nearly fills the courtroom in Bedford.