Fact Check: Another GOP ad attacking Beasley's judicial rulings is rated mostly false
It’s time for a fact check of North Carolina politics. We turn our attention again to this year’s U.S. Senate race and another ad attacking Democratic candidate and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley. The ad makes a few claims, including that Beasley “tossed the conviction” in a case involving a man seeking sex with a boy online. It also claims Beasley voted to free a child porn offender. To assess those claims, "Morning Edition" host Marshall Terry talks to Paul Specht of WRAL.
Marshall Terry: So let's get straight to that first claim. The ad accuses Beasley of tossing the conviction of a man seeking sex with a boy online. Is that true?
Paul Specht: There is a lot missing from that claim. There are some parts of it that are accurate. But there's so much context missing here that it gives a misleading impression. For instance, there's no boy involved in this case. A Lincolnton police detective posed as a 15-year-old in a Craigslist chat room. He put up an ad saying that he needed companionship and a place to live. And that's when the defendant comes in. And ultimately, the detective posing as a boy claimed that he needed a place to live. And if this defendant didn't agree to house them and also have sex, then he was going to move on. It was at that point the defendant said, yes, let's do it. The Cliff Notes version is when the defendant went to meet up with this, quote-unquote teenager, it was the police. They arrested him and he faced trial.
Now, here is where things get interesting and what kicked the case up to the state Supreme Court. The defendant, David A. Keller, claimed that he was he thought he was communicating with an adult, apparently had to click something saying you're 18 years old to be in that section of the website and argued that he was entrapped, that the police lured him to agree to something that he wouldn't have otherwise agreed to. The defense asked if the jury would consider that possibility, and that was not allowed at trial. So he's convicted of soliciting sex with a minor. His defense appeals. It goes to the Court of Appeals, and then it goes to the state Supreme Court, where Beasley and the rest of the court are asked, was he given an unfair trial because the jury was not allowed to consider the possibility that he was entrapped? And they said, yes, they ruled 5 to 2. The defendant was entitled to a new trial.
By the time the state Supreme Court even heard this case, the defendant had already served his time in prison and then released. So it didn't really have much bearing on his prison sentence because he had already served his time. And not only that, the conviction remains on his record. It's not expunged because a new trial has not happened.
Terry: Now, what about the other claim in the ad, that Beasley voted to free a child porn offender? Did that happen?
Specht: That is even more of an exaggeration. In this case, the defendant was James Howard Terrell Jr. The case of State versus Terrell. And the question that went before the state Supreme Court ultimately was how much are police allowed to search someone's private computer files?
So in this case, the defendant was at work and his longtime girlfriend got a USB drive, also known as a thumb drive, plugged it into her computer and was looking for a photo. And she came across an image of her granddaughter, who was nine years old. And according to court documents, was exposed from the waist up. She then stopped looking and she took this USB drive to the Onslow County Sheriff's Department. Well, when sheriff's deputies decided to try to go look for that photo of the granddaughter, they opened other folders in this USB drive that did not contain the photo of the granddaughter. Well, it did contain other images that were used to get a warrant for further searches.
There were 12 more photos found by the state bureau of investigation. Using a warrant they were able to get from that search. And the defense argued here that ten of those should not have been used against Terrell because they were acquired, I guess, wrongfully. They said that the police in their initial search should have only accessed the photo of the granddaughter and not looked in the other folders on a USB drive.
So this brings before the court a question like, 'Well, how much can someone look into someone's property?' You find one photo, do you get to look at all the other folders if you don't have a warrant in the first place? And at the heart of this case was, you know, did police infringe upon the defendant's privacy?
The state Court of Appeals ruled that they did. And then that's where the state Supreme Court came in. The majority, including Beasley, agreed with the Court of Appeals that just opening a thumb drive does not grant the police access to all the folders within it.
Here's the key for that second claim — the offender was not set free. His challenge was only to one of the warrants, the warrant that was prompted by what they believe was a wrongful search. So even after the state Supreme Court's ruling, he remained in prison almost another two years. So he was not set free. He remained in prison even with that ruling in place.
Terry: Now, this is the second ad attacking Beasley from the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Paul, remind us quickly who is the NRSC?
Specht: That's a group that campaigns on behalf of Republican Senate candidates. It's a pretty powerful group. It's run by Florida Senator Rick Scott. They're pretty aggressive and they are hoping to elect Congressman Ted Budd to the U.S. Senate here. And they say that they're going to be more ads. The tagline for these first two ads against Beasley has been, quote, and there's more end quote They're playing a big role down here in our state.
Terry: So how did you rate this ad?
Specht: We rated this mostly false. It greatly exaggerates the effects of these rulings. In fact, we're not the only ones who have pointed out these false and misleading claims. Multiple TV stations across North Carolina have. Actually, in an unusual move, they've actually pulled this ad that made national headlines with NPR, with The New York Times and others pointing out that this ad was particularly false.