- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 19, 2006

RICHMOND (AP) — A state parole board member has acknowledged he might have nodded off during a hearing for a convicted killer but not to the extent stated by advocates for the convict.

The incident occurred during a hearing Aug. 9 for Jens Soering, who is serving two life sentences for the 1985 murders of his girlfriend’s parents, Derek and Nancy Haysom in Bedford County, Va.

Herbert V. Coulton, 72, of Petersburg, nodded off repeatedly during the hearing, two advocates for Soering said.

“His eyes rolled back in his head,” said Tom Elliott, a retired coordinator of prison ministry for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Richmond. “He kept dozing off and on.”

Gail Marshall, an attorney who handled Soering’s unsuccessful appeals, said she was disconcerted because Mr. Coulton “had his eyes closed during most of the 20 minutes.”

She also said when Mr. Coulton opened his eyes “they were very heavy slits.”

Mr. Coulton blamed his drowsiness on medicine he has taken since having open-heart surgery.

“I don’t think it’s a fact that I was falling asleep that much,” he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “I was taking medicine, and I might have fallen asleep but not continuously.”

Mr. Coulton found support in the governor’s office, though a spokesman said Soering would get a new hearing.

“We feel confident this unfortunate incident was the result of issues with his medication,” said Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine who reappointed Mr. Coulton to the board. “We have asked the [chairwoman] of the parole board to schedule a makeup hearing for Soering.”

Mr. Coulton, who was appointed to the part-time, paid position in 2002 by then-Gov. Mark Warner, said he heard about nine to 10 parole cases the day of the Soering hearing.

Mr. Hall said the other cases will also be investigated. Mr. Coulton said he had heard no additional complaints from people attending hearings that day.

While the chairwoman of the parole board did not comment specifically on Mr. Coulton or the accusations, she said a member’s full attention is critical during a hearing.

“They are one of the most difficult parts of the job we have,” said Helen F. Fahey, the chairwoman. “Whether it’s the victim’s family or the family of an inmate, it’s a very emotional situation.”

Soering, who has been in prison about 20 years, is now 40. The Haysoms’ daughter Elizabeth pleaded guilty to being an accessory to the murders and is serving a 90-year sentence.

Inmates such as Soering, who committed their offenses before Jan. 1, 1995, are still eligible for parole. There is no parole for inmates who committed offenses after that date.

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