Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman is prosecuting Attorney General Josh Stein over a 2020 campaign ad. Read our full story on the case here, and a detailed timeline below.
Jan. 1, 2017: Josh Stein becomes attorney general.
May 4, 2017: In an email, the director of the Conference of District Attorneys tells the state’s DAs: “You may recall, at our recent conference, the AG and the State Crime Lab Director asked for your assistance in trying to determine the number of untested sexual assault kits that remain in law enforcement agencies around the state. … You all committed to assist with this project.”
June 28, 2017: The state budget requires local law enforcement agencies to inventory their rape kits by January 1, 2018.
March 1, 2018: The inventory reports more than 15,000 untested rape kits.
Oct. 7, 2019: Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill, who was running for attorney general, tweets that Stein “has stood on the sidelines for almost his entire term while more than 15,000 untested rape kits have sat on the shelves of the lab that Stein is responsible for, collecting dust.” He repeats this claim throughout the campaign, after media outlets call it false.
July 1, 2020: O’Neill becomes chair of the Conference of District Attorneys’ executive committee.
Sept. 24, 2020: Stein airs the “Survivor” ad, which says that O’Neill let 1,500 untested rape kits sit on the shelves in Forsyth County.
Sept. 29, 2020: O’Neill’s campaign files a complaint with the State Board of Elections.
Nov. 3, 2020: Stein narrowly defeats O’Neill to win a second term as AG.
May 28, 2021: The elections board’s final report on O’Neill’s complaint concludes that the truth of Stein’s ad is ambiguous, and suggests that if Stein violated the law, O’Neill might have, too.
June 23, 2021: Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman asks the State Bureau of Investigation to probe Stein’s ad.
July 28, 2021: O’Neill posts a picture to his Facebook page of him and Freeman, along with former Wake County DA Colon Willoughby and former SBI Director Robin Pendergraft, at the retirement party for Department of Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks at the Executive Mansion. Two Democratic sources say Freeman got O’Neill into the event. Freeman says she and O’Neill did not attend together.
July-December 2021: SBI Assistant Special Agent William Marsh investigates Stein’s ad, concluding with an interview with Stein on December 22.
May 17, 2022: Freeman wins the Wake County Democratic primary, all but guaranteeing her a third term as district attorney.
July 7, 2022: Assistant District Attorney David Saacks, whom Freeman has assigned to the Stein case, informs Stein’s lawyers that he plans to seek an indictment.
July 19, 2022: Stein’s lawyers propose a “tolling agreement,” in which Saacks holds off on seeking an indictment until federal courts decide whether the law is constitutional, but that time doesn’t count against the statute of limitations—the district attorney’s two-year window to file charges. Saacks says he has to confer with Freeman. The next day, Saacks rejects the offer.
July 21, 2022: Stein’s lawyers file a lawsuit against Freeman in the U.S. District Court in Greensboro to stop the prosecution.
July 25, 2022: Less than an hour before Saacks goes before a grand jury, Judge Catherine C. Eagles issues a temporary injunction.
Aug. 9, 2022: Eagles withdraws the injunction, ruling that North Carolina’s law isn’t unconstitutional on its face.
Aug. 10, 2022: On behalf of the North Carolina Democratic Party, attorney John R. Wallace asks Freeman to investigate O’Neill for “objectively false” statements he made during the 2020 campaign. Freeman’s office declines.
Aug. 17, 2022: Stein asks the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals for an injunction pending their appeal.
Aug. 18, 2022: In her response, Freeman says that granting the injunction “would effectively give Plaintiffs and those associated with them a backdoor win on the merits, given the looming expiration of the relevant statute of limitations.”
Aug. 22, 2022: A Wake County grand jury issues a presentment against Stein; his chief of staff, Seth Dearmin; and his 2020 campaign manager, Eric Stern. The case is expected to return to the grand jury for an indictment sometime in September.
Aug. 23, 2022: In a 2-1 decision, the Fourth Circuit issues an injunction pending the appeal, which will be heard in December. The ruling says the state’s law appears to violate the First Amendment because it criminalizes derogatory statements made “in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity,” which could include a true statement. Judge Toby Heytens says Freeman’s concern about the statute of limitations is “self-inflicted, because the district attorney has not adequately explained why it was necessary to wait so long to bring charges.”
Sept. 3, 2022: According to the North Carolina Department of Justice’s Sexual Assault Kit Tracking Dashboard, the state currently has 11,489 DNA kits that need testing. Wake County has 1,379, the second highest in the state, behind Durham County. Forsyth County has 891.
(Anticipated) December 2022: The appeals court will hear arguments. Heytens indicated in the injunction order that he expects the parties to reach a tolling agreement.
Jeffrey Billman reports on criminal justice and politics from Durham. He is the former editor-in-chief of INDY Week. Tips: firstname.lastname@example.org.