Anti-Beasley TV ad pulled, but CJ citations remain unchallenged

Screen shot from National Republican Senatorial Committee ad targeting Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley.

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  • Television stations have pulled an ad targeting Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley because of concerns about false statements involving Beasley's record.
  • The ad relies on three N.C. Supreme Court cases. Two of the three cite Carolina Journal reporting. Neither of the CJ reports has been challenged.

At least two N.C. television stations have pulled a Republican campaign ad targeting Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley. Beasley supporters complained the ad contained false statements, according to a CBS News report.

The ad focused on three cases Beasley heard during her time as chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court. Two of the three cases mentioned in the ad cite reporting from Carolina Journal. Only the third case, relying on a citation from a different media outlet, prompted the Beasley team’s complaint.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee unveiled the ad titled “Vulnerable” on Tuesday. NRSC touted a “seven-figure ad buy” with plans to run the ad for two weeks.

“Our children are society’s most vulnerable, and Chief Justice Cheri Beasley has failed them,” according to the NRSC script. The ad then cites three examples.

The first case, State v. Keller, dates from June 5, 2020.

“In a 5-2 decision, the high court ordered a new trial for a Lincoln County man,” Carolina Journal reported 11 days after the ruling. “He had been convicted of online solicitation of sex from a teenage boy in 2015. Justices in the majority ruled that the original trial court had made a major mistake. The trial judge had failed to instruct the jury about the possible defense of entrapment.”

“Beasley’s majority opinion highlighted the defense’s argument that police had entrapped Keller. ‘[A]t least part of the jury’s deliberation focused on whether defendant had the requisite criminal intent, and the central inquiry for entrapment in this case is whether the criminal intent was originated by defendant or law enforcement,’ the chief justice wrote.”

Justices Paul Newby and Michael Morgan dissented.

“The crucial event in this case is the moment defendant learned his prospective sexual partner was underage,” Newby wrote. “Once he learned that fact, he did not end his pursuit. Instead, he continued his undertaking to the point of driving to pick up his young victim. His actions demonstrate his predisposition to pursue such an illegal sexual encounter.”

The dissent rejected Keller’s entrapment claim. “The majority takes defendant at his word and blinds itself to the mountain of uncontested evidence that shows that defendant was predisposed to commit the offense,” Newby wrote. “The majority thus removes from our case law the requirement that a defendant must present sufficient credible evidence of entrapment.”

The NRSC cited Carolina Journal’s coverage of both the Keller ruling and the second case refenced in the ad. The Supreme Court decided that case, State v. White, in May 2019. Beasley wrote the opinion for a 4-2 majority. The case against defendant Michael Lee White involved molestation of a 7-year-old girl, identified in court documents as “Hannah.”

Carolina Journal reported: “White’s defense argued that his conviction should be thrown out because the 2015 indictment was invalid. State law required the indictment to name Hannah as the victim, White claimed.”

“A unanimous three-judge Appeals Court panel disagreed and upheld White’s conviction. … Yet Beasley and three Supreme Court colleagues agreed to overturn the unanimous appellate panel. They ruled that the indictment did not meet legal requirements for identifying the crime’s alleged victim.”

As in the Keller case, Newby excoriated Beasley and the court’s majority.

“Once again, a child victim must endure the emotional distress and indignities of another trial because of a purely legal technicality,” Newby wrote. “It is this type of legal gamesmanship which leads to cynicism about whether justice prevails in our criminal justice system.”

In a separate dissent, Morgan blasted the Beasley majority’s “narrow and rigid interpretation of the applicable law.”

NRSC’s ad says of Beasley’s approach to the Keller and White cases: “A man seeking sex with a boy online. She tossed the conviction. The predator who sexually assaulted a 7-year-old girl. Beasley threw out the indictment.”

Those four sentences generated no complaint from Democratic lawyers about false statements. Beasley supporters targeted instead the third case referenced in the NRSC ad.

The ad says: “A child porn offender. She voted to set him free.”

The claim stems from an Aug. 24, 2019, article in the Washington Free Beacon.

“The Democratic majority on North Carolina’s supreme court ruled to let a child porn offender go free on a technicality,” the Free Beacon reported in its opening line.

In State v. Terrell, decided Aug. 16, 2019, the defendant’s girlfriend had discovered a lewd photograph of her 9-year-old granddaughter on a USB drive. She turned the drive over to police, who found more images of child pornography. Terrell was charged and convicted.

But a 5-1 state Supreme Court majority ruled that authorities had violated the defendant’s right to privacy. The decision affirmed a split N.C. Court of Appeals ruling. Terrell’s case returned to a trial court for additional proceedings.

Democratic lawyers complained to TV stations airing the NRSC ad that the Supreme Court decision did not set Terrell free. Terrell eventually left prison in December 2021. “It is unclear how or if the state Supreme Court’s decision played a role in his release,” according to the CBS News report about the TV ad dispute.

CBS cited a letter from representatives of WSOC-TV and WAXN-TV in Charlotte: “The defendant was not set free by the ruling as the ad claims. CMG will not run the ad when it contains a false statement on material issue. This ad has been removed from airing.”

This is NRSC’s second ad against Beasley. The first, titled “Victims,” ran in May.

Beasley is running for the open U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Richard Burr. Her main opponent is current U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, R-13th District.