An elderly Alaskan couple was murdered last year. Their two-year-old granddaughter was raped. And the victims’ family on Friday said Sen. Mark Begich (D., Alaska) is exploiting the grisly incident for political gain, potentially compromising legal action against the killer.
In a scathing cease-and-desist letter, the family’s attorney said Begich’s reelection campaign has "crossed the boundaries of decency, honor, and compassion."
"You[r] campaign is playing pure politics at the expense of my clients, and frankly has done only what is in the best interests of ‘Mark Begich’ rather than protecting the victims of the most serious crime in Alaska history," the attorney, Bryon Collins, wrote.
The dispute comes in the wake of a pair of ads in Alaska’s contentious Senate race. Begich’s campaign on Friday released a spot blaming former Alaska attorney general and Begich’s Republican challenger Dan Sullivan for the crime.
The crime was a particularly heinous one. The killer, Jerry Andrew Active, last year broke into the home of Anchorage couple Touch Chea and Sorn Sreap.
Active beat the couple, aged 71 and 73, to death. He then sexually assaulted their two-year-old granddaughter and Sreap’s 91-year-old mother.
Active committed the crimes hours after being paroled following a four-year prison term for sexually assaulting a minor. Active was released early was due to a clerical error, as a prior felony conviction had failed to be noted on Active’s official rap sheet.
Sullivan was attorney general when Active struck the plea deal that resulted in his early release, but was not actually in office when that clerical error was made, or when Active was released from custody, according to a timeline provided by the state’s current attorney general.
Despite these facts, Begich’s campaign ad accused Sullivan of being responsible for Active’s crimes.
Sullivan shot back at Begich, running his own ad disputing the "despicable" charges. Begich’s campaign stuck by those charges.
Collins on Friday asked both campaigns to pull their respective ads, saying they could taint a jury, tarnishing criminal proceedings against Active.
Sullivan’s campaign pulled their ad. Begich’s did not. Collins was livid.
"You are tearing this family apart to the point that your ad was so shocking to them they now want to permanently leave the state as quickly as possible," he wrote. "Again, to be perfectly clear, it was your ad that shocked them."
He directly contrasted the reactions of the two campaigns, noting, "The Sullivan campaign immediately recognized that the right thing to do was take it down."
The letter included a plea from the family, who worry that the politicization of the crime could prevent justice from being served.
"The reason I want the ad down is because we do not want it to interfere with the trial," a family member said. "I do not want this or my family to be part of any campaign cause it's pointless for us."
A political science professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Forrest Nabors, said Begich's ad was a huge risk.
"You want to take that big risk if you think you are down and you need that home run you are going to go for it, and that’s what this advertisement told me about the Begich campaign — that they need to fight very hard and take significant risks in order to win in November," Forrest Nabors told KTVA Alaska.