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The National Republican Senatorial Committee has shown this image of U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley, former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, in attack ads against her. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has shown this image of U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley, former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, in attack ads against her.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has shown this image of U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley, former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, in attack ads against her.

Paul Specht
By Paul Specht June 6, 2022

NRSC exaggerates effect of Beasley rulings in sex offense cases

If Your Time is short

  • The attack ad features three claims against Beasley, one of which PolitiFact has already rated Half True.
  • The two other claims exaggerate the effects of the state Supreme Court's rulings in a pair of cases.
  • The tossed conviction claim refers to a case handed down after the defendant already served his prison term, while the "set free" claim ignores that the defendant remained in prison for two years after the court's ruling.

A national Republican group has launched a second attack ad that calls into question the judgment of North Carolina’s Democratic U.S. Senate candidate.

Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley is running for U.S. Senate against U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C. Both candidates hope to replace Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, who is retiring when his term ends this year.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee recently released two ads accusing Beasley of failing victims of crime. In the first ad, the NRSC says Beasley "vacated" a man’s death sentence and "threw out" the indictment in a case with a 7-year-old girl. PolitiFact found that the ad omitted key context about the cases, rating its claims Half True.

In its second ad, the NRSC recycled the claim that Beasley threw out the indictment in the girl’s assault case. Again, it leaves out that Beasley and a majority of the state Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors failed to comply with state law when indicting the man involved.

The second ad highlights two other cases. Here’s a transcript of what the narrator says.

"Our children are society’s most vulnerable, and Chief Justice Cheri Beasley has failed them.

"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. 

"A child porn offender. She voted to set him free.

"And, sadly, there’s more. 

"We can’t trust Cheri Beasley to protect our families."

Several North Carolina television stations, including PolitiFact partner WRAL, recently decided to stop running the ad because they determined it contains false or misleading claims.

The PolitiFact North Carolina team at WRAL separately reviewed the ad’s claims that Beasley "tossed" the conviction of a man seeking sex with a boy, and that she voted to set free a child porn offender. Using the PolitFact process, we found that those descriptions exaggerate the effect of the state Supreme Court’s rulings and omit important details about the cases that might give viewers a different impression of Beasley.

PolitiFact reviewed the ad’s claims that Beasley "tossed" the conviction of a man seeking sex with a boy, and that she voted to set free a child porn offender. Those descriptions exaggerate the effect of the state Supreme Court’s rulings and omit important details about the cases that might give viewers a different impression of Beasley.

Dory MacMillan, the communications director for Beasley’s campaign, called it a "false attack." 

"Voters know Cheri worked with law enforcement to hold violent offenders accountable, and she will continue to keep our communities safe as North Carolina’s next U.S. senator," MacMillan said. 

In a June 3 press release, the NRSC defended the ad saying it accurately presents Beasley’s record.

Tossed conviction?

The ad’s claim about a man seeking sex with a boy online stems from the State of North Carolina v. David Alan Keller case that the state Supreme Court ruled on in 2020. 

Keller had been convicted of soliciting a minor for sex in a case involving a detective in the Lincolnton Police Department who posed as a 15-year-old online. The detective posted a personal advertisement titled "Boy Needs a Man" on the "casual encounters" section of Craigslist and Keller responded the next day, court records show, writing in his initial post: "I am a 44 white male looking for a young guy to take care of and spoil."

The detective told Keller that he needed a place to live. Keller offered to house him, and the detective said he’d agree only if they could also have sex: "Just give me a yes or no." Keller responded "Yes."

In his trial, Keller testified that he believed he was communicating with an adult on Craigslist because its users must click a disclaimer stating that they are 18-years-old to access the "casual encounters" section of the website. Keller’s lawyer argued that the detective was the only person during the encounter to allude to the possibility of sexual activity during their conversations. Keller only agreed to meet him so that he wouldn’t "find someone else" for sexual activity because, he said, he was afraid the detective might be hurt by someone else.

Keller testified that he responded to the ad because he and his live-in companion "were having  problems" and he wanted to make his partner "jealous," according to court documents. He further testified that "sex was not on my mind at this time." Upon cross-examination, though, Keller admitted that his initial response to the Craigslist ad was "sexual in nature," but that he thought the detective was 18.

When the jury was instructed to deliberate the case, Keller’s attorney argued that the jury should be allowed to consider Keller’s entrapment defense. But the trial court denied that request.

After the state’s Court of Appeals upheld the ruling, the case went to the North Carolina Supreme Court on March 9, 2020. By that point, state records show that Keller had already been released from prison after serving from September 29, 2016, to July 5, 2018. 

On June 5, 2020, the state Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that Keller was entitled to a new trial. Beasley wrote the opinion, saying the case was prejudicial because the defendant "presented substantial evidence that might allow a reasonable juror to find that it was [the detective], rather than defendant, who repeatedly demanded that defendant agree to participate in sexual activity."

The ad says Beasley "tossed the conviction." While the conviction was vacated, the ruling came down after Keller completed his time in prison and the conviction remains in state records. The Department of Public Safety must receive a court order in order to expunge someone’s record, a department spokesman said.

Child porn case

The narrator in the NRSC ad said Beasley "set free" a child porn offender, while an image on the screen says the man was convicted on 12 counts. This claim refers to the State of North Carolina v. James Howard Terrell Jr. The question before the state Supreme Court in that case was not about Terrell’s actions, but about how local police obtained evidence used against him. 

When Terrell was at work, his longtime girlfriend went into his briefcase and found a USB drive, commonly known as a thumb drive, and plugged it into their shared computer in an attempt to find a photo of Terrell’s former housekeeper. She then came across an image of her 9-year-old granddaughter sleeping in a bed and "exposed from the waist up." She then stopped looking through his USB drive and took it to the Onslow County Sheriff’s Department, according to court documents. 

A detective discovered more photos of "prepubescent females" while attempting to find a photo of the girlfriend’s granddaughter on the USB drive. The detective then included information from his search of the USB drive in his application for a warrant, court records show. The defense argued that, if the warrant hadn’t been granted, 10 of the 12 photos found by the State Bureau of Investigation wouldn’t have been used against Terrell because they had been deleted and were only detected using the SBI’s "forensic tool." At trial, the defense motioned to suppress some of the evidence but was denied. 

Upon appeal, the state Court of Appeals ruled that the detective’s search of the USB drive infringed upon his right to privacy. 

The state Supreme Court later agreed, with Justice Anita Earls writing this opinion in response to prosecutors: "We cannot agree that the mere opening of a thumb drive and the viewing of as little as one file automatically renders the entirety of the device’s contents ‘now nonprivate information. "

Beasley was among the majority who affirmed the appeals court decision. Paul Newby, the lone Republican justice at the time, was the only dissenter. The state Supreme Court’s ruling in his case garnered attention from the media and academic communities.

The NRSC said Beasley set the offender free. Though the state Supreme Court affirmed the appeals court’s ruling, Terrell wasn’t immediately freed. 

The state Supreme Court’s ruling was handed down on Aug. 16, 2019. Records show Terrell was incarcerated in November 2016 and released Dec. 23, 2021.

Our ruling

The NRSC ad said Beasley tossed the conviction of a man "seeking sex with a boy online." It leaves out that the defendant argued that he was entrapped, a detail key to understanding how the case made it to the state Supreme Court. It also misleads people about the effects of Beasley’s ruling. By the time it was handed down, the defendant had already served his prison sentence. And the conviction still appears in state records.

The NRSC ad said Beasley "set free" a child porn offender. In this case, the Court of Appeals had already ruled that officials violated the defendant’s right to privacy. The state Supreme Court’s ruling affirmed that decision. And after the Supreme Court’s ruling, the defendant remained in prison for another two years.

The statement contains some elements of truth about the defendants in the cases but ignores critical facts that would give viewers a different impression of the subject matter and why Beasley ruled the way she did. We rate it Mostly False.

Our Sources

Video ad, "Vulnerable" by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Email exchange with Dory MacMillan, the communications director for the Cheri Beasley for U.S. Senate campaign.

Email exchange with T.W. Arrighi, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Press release from the National Republican Senatorial Committee on June 3, 2022.

Story by the New York Times, "North Carolina TV stations pull an attack ad against Cheri Beasley, a Democrat running for Senate," posted June 3, 2022.

Story by PolitiFact, "NRSC ad attacks 2 Beasley rulings, omits context," posted May 25, 2022.

State v. Keller opinion from the North Carolina Supreme Court on June 5, 2020.

State v. Terrell opinion from the North Carolina Supreme Court on Aug. 16, 2019.

Imprisonment records for David A. Keller and James Howard Terrell Jr. on the North Carolina Department of Public Safety website. 

Telephone interview with John Bull, spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.

Story by Reason Magazine, "North Carolina Court Deepens Split on Private Searches of Digital Evidence," posted Aug. 23, 2019.

Story by the Washington Free Beacon, "NC Dem Judges Soft on Sex Crimes," posted Aug. 24, 2019.

Story by the Jacksonville Daily News, "Man found guilty of sexually exploiting children," posted Nov. 17, 2016.

Blog by the Carolina Journal, "Competitors for top court job take opposing sides in sex predator case," posted June 16, 2020.

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NRSC exaggerates effect of Beasley rulings in sex offense cases

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