‘Soft’ on Rape? Nonsense

FactCheck.org

In one of the most blatantly false attack ads of the political season, an outside Republican group blamed a former assistant district attorney now running for attorney general in Pennsylvania of going “soft” with plea deals in two rape cases she never actually handled.

In one case, the ad says, a judge “rejected [Kathleen] Kane’s weak deal because of the brutality of the crime and age of the victim,” and in another case, the ad says Kane “went soft on a rapist of a 16-year-old who was released and later assaulted two more women.” But Kane didn’t actually handle either case. It turns out Kane signed criminal information documents — an administrative function — but both cases were assigned to different prosecutors who handled the plea deals.

After Kane’s former supervisor in the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s office and the father of one of the rape victims came forward and pointed out the inaccuracy and demanded the ad be pulled, the Washington D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee let the tainted ad run for several more days on four Philadelphia TV stations before replacing it with a revised version.

The new ad removed the references to the two rape cases mentioned in the original ad, but it criticizes Kane for “[letting] others take responsibility for violent criminals given weak plea deals.” Again, they were not her cases.

The new ad also mentions a new rape case — one Kane actually did prosecute — and alleges that Kane “failed miserably, resulting in an alleged rapist of a 15-year-old getting off with a conviction on lesser charges.” But that was a jury verdict, and the makers of the ad offer no evidence — other than the verdict — that Kane somehow mishandled the case.

Republican State Leadership Committee President Chris Jankowski said the group stands behind both ads. The TV ads are the foundation of the RSLC’s $1 million-plus campaign targeting Kane. Kane’s opponent in the November election is Republican Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed.

The Original Ad

The original ad attacking Kane’s record as an assistant district attorney in Lackawanna County from 1995 to 2007 began airing in the Philadelphia area on Thursday, Sept. 20. The ad begins with a mother watching her daughter head off to school with a backpack. “You need to know she’ll be safe,” the narrator says. But the ad contends Kane has exaggerated her record as a prosecutor.

Republican State Legislative Committee Ad: Of Kane’s few cases, a judge rejected Kane’s weak deal because of the brutality of the crime and age of the victim. Kane also went soft on a rapist of a 16-year-old who was released and later assaulted two more women. … We just can’t risk our families’ safety on Kathleen Kane.

That’s simply incorrect. Gene Talerico, first assistant district attorney in Lackawanna County and Kane’s former supervisor, wrote a letter — provided to us by the Kane campaign –  in which he states that the ad’s claim that “a judge rejected Kane’s weak deal because of the brutality of the crime and age of the victim” is “indisputably false.” Talerico said: “Indeed it is an outright lie.”

“As the First Assistant District Attorney, I was the supervising attorney on that case, I can unequivocally state that Kathleen Kane had no involvement in the plea or the sentencing in that matter,” Talerico stated.

Kane’s only involvement was “an administrative function with the signing of the criminal information document setting forth the charges.” A form prepared by the clerk of court in 2007 mistakenly identified Kathleen Kane (then Kathleen Granahan) as the commonwealth’s attorney. But a form issued the same day corrected the mistake and made clear that it was being handled by another assistant district attorney. Transcripts of the guilty plea and sentencing — provided to us by the Kane campaign — also make clear that the case was handled by that other assistant district attorney.

In his letter, Talerico called it a “false, malicious and unconscionable attack” and asked the RSLC to withdraw the ad immediately.

If that weren’t enough, the father of the rape victim also wrote a letter on Kane’s behalf:

Letter from father of the rape victim: The advertisement says that Kathleen Kane made a plea bargain in a rape case that a judge says wasn’t tough enough. I know that’s a lie, because it was my daughter that was the victim in that case.

This advertisement is offensive to me and to my family. I’d like to ask the people who made this outrageous advertisement if they would like their daughter’s tragic story all over television.

What makes this advertisement even more offensive is that it is not even true. Kathleen Kane had nothing to do with the guilty plea or the sentencing in this case. That work was done by another assistant district attorney. Ms. Kane was not the attorney who handled our case. Ms. Kane was not part of any guilty plea or sentencing. She was not the prosecutor of the man who raped my daughter.

As a father who has seen his family go through too much pain already, I am asking for David Freed and the people who made this offensive advertisement to take it off the air immediately. If they can’t convince people to vote for him without lying, he should not even be running.

Talerico later said Kane was not the prosecutor handling the other case featured in the ad either, and had nothing to do with either of the plea deals.

The ad includes one other bit of misdirection.

RSLC ad: Kathleen Kane wasn’t honest when she said she prosecuted 3,000 cases. She admitted it was more like 24.

This conflates two statistics. Prosecutions are not the same thing as trials. In its backup material, the Republican State Leadership Committee cites an article in the Harrisburg Patriot-News, which, ironically, explains the difference between the two figures. As the article states, Kane claims to have prosecuted more than 3,000 cases, but that doesn’t mean she tried that many cases.

The 3,000 figure is a back-of-the-envelope calculation based on assistant district attorneys typically being assigned about 25 cases a month. According to the campaign, “prosecutions” includes everything from filing pre-trial motions to bail hearings to actual trials. Kane was in the Lackawanna County DA’s office for 12 years. So 25 cases times 12 months times 12 years comes to 3,600 cases. The campaign said she rounded down just to be safe.

Kane also told the Patriot-News for the same story that she tried about two dozen cases in court. These are not conflicting statistics, as the ad suggests. One could argue whether it is puffing up one’s record to count every bail hearing or pre-trial hearing as a “prosecution,” but it simply was not a matter of Kane “admitting” the 3,000 prosecutions were “more like 24.”

The Revised (Still Misleading) Ad

Alerted to the ad’s inaccuracies, the RSLC promised on Sept. 21 (the day after the ad began airing) to revise the ad. Nevertheless, it continued to run on Philadelphia TV for several more days.

RSLC President Chris Jankowski said the RSLC agreed to revise the ad, but at no point did it agree to immediately pull the original ad until the replacement was ready.

“We stand by the first ad,” Jankowski told us by phone. “We’re relying on court records from Pennsylvania that she was assigned these cases. … We don’t believe the ad was false. We had no reason to pull the ad.”

So why did the group agree to revise it? Jankowski said the RSLC didn’t want to “get into a back-and-forth” about what role Kane may have played in those two particular cases, and it wanted to focus on the larger point, “highlighting that she has been elusive when it comes to very specific cases rather than the broad, general statements she makes about her record.”

The revised ad was sent to TV stations in Philadelphia on Monday, Sept. 24, Jankowski said. But the stations may not have made the switch until the following day.

The ad features the same video of a girl headed out to school, and then repeats the misleading claim that “sadly, Kathleen Kane wasn’t honest when she said she prosecuted 3,000 cases. It turns out she tried about 24.”

The ad then says, “Now, [Kane] lets others take responsibility for violent criminals given weak plea deals.”

That’s a clear reference to the two rape cases cited in the first ad. And well she should have let others take responsibility for those cases. As Kane’s supervisor and the father of one of the victims made perfectly clear, Kane wasn’t responsible for the plea deals cited in the first ad.

In the revised ad, the RSLC removed references to the two rape cases cited in the first ad, and replaced them with another case that Kane did co-prosecute.

RSLC ad: And in one of her only trials, Kane failed miserably, resulting in an alleged rapist of a 15-year-old getting off with a conviction on lesser charges. We just can’t risk our families’ safety on Kathleen Kane.

Although the ad shows a van screeching up behind a girl walking on a sidewalk, the case involved the alleged sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl in her home by a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman.

According to a story in the Scranton Times-Tribune on Nov. 4, 2005, Delmar Hooks, 27, was convicted by a jury of three sexual offenses, but cleared of three others. Hooks was found guilty of statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault and indecent assault. He was acquitted of rape, sexual assault and indecent exposure.

According to the Times-Tribune, police said Hooks sexually assaulted the girl after she twice allowed him into her home. The girl claimed Hooks pursued and sexually assaulted her, but Hooks testified that “the girl flirted with him during his second visit to the house and said she initiated the contact,” according to the Times-Tribune.

Kane, who co-prosecuted the case, told the Times-Tribune at the time that she was pleased with the verdict.

“He’s going to jail,” she said. Kane told the paper that jurors “had a hard time sorting out whose account of the incident was accurate.”

“They were torn as to who to believe,” Kane, whose maiden name is Granahan, said. “They believed both.”

Hooks’ public defender agreed, telling the Times-Tribune, “After six hours there obviously was disagreement and dispute among them. I would have to think that the jury figured, obviously, she let him in the house the second time and because of the voluntary admission it might have played a factor at least in the rape offense.”

Jankowski said the verdict speaks for itself, and that if Kane was the experienced prosecutor she claims to be, she would have won a conviction on the more serious charges as well. But other than the verdict, the RSLC offers no evidence that Kane made any kind of misstep in court or otherwise mishandled the case to back up its claim that she “failed miserably.”

Kane told the Philadelphia Daily News it was unfair for the RSLC to suggest that she went light on the defendant in that case.

“It was a jury verdict,” Kane said. “How do you go light when it is a jury verdict?”

– Robert Farley

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