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These fact checks of North Carolina politics are a collaboration between PolitiFact and WRAL. You can hear them Wednesdays on WFAE's Morning Edition.

Fact Check: Claims in ad attacking Cheri Beasley's judicial rulings are only half-true

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and former North Carolina Chief Justice Cheri Beasley is seen in a May 2022 photo shared by her campaign.
Cheri Beasley
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and former North Carolina Chief Justice Cheri Beasley is seen in a May 2022 photo shared by her campaign.

It’s time for a fact check of North Carolina politics. In this year’s U.S. Senate race, an ad attacking Democratic candidate and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley claims Beasley vacated the death sentence of a man who fatally shot a 17-year-old in the face. It also claims Beasley threw out the indictment of a man convicted of sexually assaulting a 7-year-old girl. To assess those claims, we turn to Paul Specht of WRAL.

Marshall Terry: Before we get to the claims themselves, Paul, who paid for this ad?

Paul Specht: This was paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and that's basically the political campaign arm of the Republicans in the U.S. Senate right now. It's chaired by Florida Sen. Rick Scott, but it's also closely tied to (Senate minority) leader Mitch McConnell out of Kentucky.

Terry: OK, so the ad says Beasley vacated the death sentence of a murderer who shot a boy in the face. Is that true?

Specht: Well, it's fair to say that the death sentence was vacated, but there are a lot of key details missing here. For instance, the beginning of that ad suggests that she failed to protect victims with this ruling. That's not exactly the case here. Although the death sentence was vacated — again, fair word to use — the man involved, Marcus Reymond Robertson, is not back on the street. It's true that in the 1990s, he shot a 17-year-old in the face. And he was convicted in 1994. What happened later was in 2012, the case was reexamined under the Racial Justice Act, and that allows death row inmates and capital murder defendants to challenge their sentences on grounds that they were influenced by racial bias.

So, after that happened, a Superior Court judge commuted Robinson's death sentence and turned it into life in prison. Fast forward a year to 2013: republicans gained control of the state legislature, they repeal the Racial Justice Act. Here's where Cheri Beasley comes in. And the question before her court was, does Robinson go back to death row since the Racial Justice Act has been repealed? Obviously, he used that act to get his sentence reduced from the death penalty to life in prison. So, does he go back there or does he get to stay in prison just for life?

And the court ruled 4 to 3 that even though the Racial Justice Act had been repealed, that sending Robinson back to death row would be akin to double jeopardy, which of course, is not allowed. The Constitution protects against that. So, the case was not about the merits of whether or not he was guilty. It was whether or not the Racial Justice Act ruling putting him in life in prison should be overturned and Robinson should be sent back to death row. And Beasley ruled in the majority there.

Terry: Now, what about the other case that the ad mentions — the one in which a man convicted of sexually assaulting a 7-year-old girl having his indictment thrown out? Did that happen, as the ad claims.

Specht: It did happen. That's true as well. But again, there's lots of context missing here. And I think the first thing we should point out is this ruling was not about the merits of the case. It was not about whether or not this man, Michael Lee White, committed this offense. It was not, "Does he deserve to be back on the street?" No. It was very technical. This man was convicted, and then he appealed his conviction on grounds that prosecutors did not follow the law in North Carolina by naming the victim.

Anyone charged with an offense has a right to know a little bit about who their accuser is. And the state law says that when the victim is a person under the age of 13, that they must be named. It says this in state law: The child must be named, as required by law. And so, in this case, what the prosecutors did with the indictment is they just named the defendant as "Victim 1." And so this is where the state Supreme Court comes in. They had to decide: Is that identification, "Victim 1," enough to fulfill the requirements by state law?

And Beasley was in the majority. It was a 4-2 ruling in saying that, no, that's not enough to comply with state law. So, again, there's some truth to what this ad says, but it leaves out a broader context that might give people a different impression of what the case was actually about.

Terry: So how did you rate this ad, then?

Specht: We rated this half-true. You know, as far as the death sentence being vacated, that's technically true. There's a lot missing, though. They said that Beasley failed to protect victims in that particular case. The man involved with the murder is not back on the street. He's serving a life sentence. And then in the other case with the indictment, it's true that the indictment was thrown out, but the ad leaves out that this was not on the merits of the man's case.

It was not about his actions. It was about whether prosecutors and the state followed state law when they convicted him, and they ruled 4 to 2 — Beasley was not the only one in the majority; they ruled 4 to 2 — that the indictment did not comply with state law. And so, partially accurate but leaves out important details. That's our recipe for a half-true.

Terry: All right, Paul, thank you.

Specht: Thank you.

These fact checks are a collaboration between PolitiFact and WRAL. You can hear them Wednesdays on WFAE's "Morning Edition."

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Marshall came to WFAE after graduating from Appalachian State University, where he worked at the campus radio station and earned a degree in communication. Outside of radio, he loves listening to music and going to see bands - preferably in small, dingy clubs.