A prominent political fact-checking website determined that an ad approved by Alaska U.S. Sen. Mark Begich which claims that Republican challenger Dan Sullivan’s actions as state attorney general led to the early release of a man who went on to commit a double murder are completely off the mark.
“The ad is not only inaccurate, it makes an inflammatory accusation. We rate this claim Pants on Fire,” PolitiFact determined in its analysis of a controversial Begich-approved commercial which began airing Friday.
The TV spot claimed that as attorney general, Sullivan was in some way responsible for a light prison sentence given to Jerry Active, a 25-year-old accused of murdering an Anchorage couple and sexually assaulting their 2-year-old granddaughter in May 2013.
“(Sullivan) let a lot of sex offenders get off with light sentences,” says the narrator in the ad. “One of them got out of prison and is now charged with breaking into that apartment building, murdering a senior couple and sexually assaulting their two-year-old granddaughter. Dan Sullivan should not be a U.S. senator.”
Active should have been in prison at the time of the 2013 crime. He committed a Class C felony in 2007. That felony charge should have triggered an eight-year minimum sentence for crimes he committed in Jan. 2009, which included the attempted sexual abuse of a minor.
But a state criminal database search conducted by the Alaska Department of Public Safety the day of Active’s 2009 crime failed to document the 2007 incident. Active later signed a plea deal on the 2009 charge which landed him a four year prison sentence plus time served. (RELATED: Attorney Slams Begich For Refusing To Take Down Ad)
But PolitiFact, which is operated in conjunction with the Tampa Bay Times, found no evidence to support the claim.
“Because of the inaccurate report, the Department of Law miscalculated Active’s presumptive sentence. They believed it to be between two years and 12 years – leading to his four-year sentence and release in 2012. If their calculation had included his 2007 felony charge, he would have had a presumptive sentence of eight years to 15 years,” wrote PolitiFact.
In an ad of his own, Sullivan, a former Bush administration official, pointed out that he was not attorney general until months after Active’s 2009 crimes. He was serving in the Marines at the time and had taken on another state position by the time Active was released from prison.
But the Begich camp worked another angle. It pointed to a stamp bearing Sullivan’s name on Active’s 2010 plea deal.
But that still did not put Sullivan on the hook for Active’s light sentence or the 2013 crimes, PolitiFact determined. The document while signed by an assistant district attorney.
“Additionally, it’s highly unlikely that Sullivan was personally involved with Active’s case and plea agreement at all,” said John Skidmore, director of the Department of Law’s criminal division. “The state handles about 40,000 cases each year, at least half of which are felonies – so it’s “unrealistic” for an attorney general to be involved with individual cases, he said,” PolitiFact wrote.
“There is no way that (any attorney general) would be involved in that sort of decision at that level at that time,” Skidmore told the fact-checker.
PolitiFact also slammed the Begich ad’s claim that Sullivan was soft on crime during his stint as attorney general.
The site noted that “presumptive sentencing policies had been in place since the late 1970s – so when Sullivan entered the office, these practices were already well-established.”
The back-and-forth between both campaigns drew outrage from the victims’ family. Bryon Collins, the attorney for the family, urged both campaigns to remove their ads as well as any materials published about the case in full. According to Collins, the family worried that the ads would taint Active’s upcoming trial.
The Sullivan campaign withdrew its rebuttal ad first. The Begich camp said it would modify the ad. That provoked Collins further. On Monday he sent a letter to Begich telling the incumbent that the ad was causing the family great distress.
The Begich campaign fully retracted the ad Tuesday.
According to a Rasmussen poll conduced last month, Sullivan leads Begich 47-45.