Bruce VonCannon's attack ad on Phil Berger Jr., one of his GOP opponents in the 6th Congressional District race, has been airing since last Friday. But Pam Dean saw the ad for the first time this week.
"...claiming he's a tough DA, but offering a plea bargain to a child rapist to only serve three years...."
And there it was, the name and photo of the man who molested her foster child.
"I was pretty shocked, and I was just thankful that my child didn’t see that," Dean said in a phone interview today.
Dean was initially upset with the VonCannon campaign for using the case to score political points, but her anger turned to Berger when she found out that according to court records, he had, in fact, offered the plea deal to James Dunlap, the child's stepfather.
"I'm more upset and concerned about Mr. Berger offering a plea deal to Mr. Dunlap without consulting me and my husband," Dean said. "We are her foster parents and I am her aunt.
"I feel that anytime you’re going to offer a plea deal, you're supposed to consult the family first," Dean said. "He never did that with us. He never even spoke to us at all."
Dean called the Rockingham County District Attorney's office this morning, and the person she spoke to said she wasn't aware of the ad -- something Dean found hard to believe with the publicity around the Berger campaign.
"That (Berger) would think no more of what (Dunlap) did to that child, that he would offer him just three years," Dean said. "Three years would have been no justice at all. It shows the utmost disrespect."
Dean wants some answers.
She wants Berger to answer directly, yes or no, whether he offered the plea deal and why. It angered her to see Berger's public response, where he focused on fact that Dunlap ended up with a 24 year sentence.
"I want (Berger) to be called out on this, and admit what he did," Dean said. "I thank God that (Dunlap) wasn't smart enough to take the plea."
Dean requested a callback from Berger, but says she doesn't really expect it.
"I’m sure they don’t want to hear from me anymore," Dean said. "But I'll be calling back."
Forgotten in all the political attacks over the March 2014 case is the victim herself, Dean said.
"She’s 11 years old, and everybody who was supposed to love and take care of her has let her down," Dean said. "We just want to let her be a child and give her a life she loves."
Berger did respond late today with a statement to the News & Record:
"I want Pam Dean to know that I care deeply about her foster child. That’s why throughout this case, everything we did was to ensure that this molester was held accountable for his crimes. That’s what happened. James Dunlap is in jail for up to 24 years in a maximum security prison today because we prosecuted him and put him there.
"Throughout this case my office was in contact with the families involved. I plan on scheduling a meeting with Mrs. Dean to privately discuss these new distortions and reiterate to her that the criminal involved is in jail for a long, long time. I also will continue to share my concern and sympathy for what this criminal did and answer any questions she may have.
"These cases are not simple and they are painful for everyone involved. As you go through any criminal case, facts and circumstances change. And as a prosecutor you’re constantly reevaluating to find a way to get a stronger, tougher sentence. That’s what we did here and now James Dunlap is in jail for a very, very long time. My office put him in prison.
"It is an absolute shame that Bruce VonCannon and his campaign have used distortions and misrepresentations of a heinous crime like this for his political gain. Bruce should be embarrassed for these negative attacks, the pain that they’ve caused and the viciousness of his distortions. Any fair minded person would look at the results of this prosecution and realize that out of common decency it would not be appropriate to distort and mislead the public and bring so much pain to people just for political gain.”