published Saturday, June 15th, 2013

Murray County conspiracy unfolds

  • photo
    Former Chief Magistrate Bryant Cochran and Angela Garmley. Garmley's accusations against Cochran initiated a state investigation that led to the judge's resignation.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

ROME, Ga. — Federal prosecutors on Friday named Clifford "C.J." Joyce as the man who planted drugs on a woman's car at the request of a Murray County judge.

Joyce , 27, admitted in U.S. District Court here he had placed five small packets of methamphetamine on Angela Garmley's car on Aug. 12. Garmley was the woman who had accused Chief Magistrate Judge Bryant Cochran of making sexual advances in his chambers.

U.S. Assistant Attorney Jeff Davis said Joyce was trying to discredit Garmley and conspired with others to plant the drugs. But Davis wouldn't name the other conspirators before indictments are issued.

Joyce was the third man to plead guilty in federal court to framing Garmley. Murray County Sheriff's Capt. Michael Henderson and Deputy Josh Greeson pleaded to felony obstruction charges this year. Each guilty plea has revealed more details of how deep the setup went and how it happened.

In July, Garmley met with Cochran to request warrants for several arrests. She told investigators the judge tried to convince her to have sex with him for a good outcome in her case. She filed a complaint against Cochran, sparking a state ethics investigation.

On Aug. 12, a day before Cochran resigned, Greeson pulled Garmley over in a traffic stop after being told by Henderson to look out for her car. Garmley; her husband, Joe; and a friend were arrested. The charges later were dismissed.

So far prosecutors' only revelation about Cochran's involvement is that he originally called Henderson, his cousin, and others within the sheriff's office to tell them Garmley had drugs in her car.

Both Joyce's and Garmley's attorneys say Joyce, who lived in a trailer park Cochran owned, wasn't acting on his own.

"He was the lowest one on this totem pole," said Joyce's attorney, Scott Forster.

Both Forster and Garmley's attorney, McCracken Poston, said they have information that another man gave Joyce the idea to plant the drugs. This man was asked to recruit Joyce to the task, Poston said. He said he turned over this information to the federal government.

Cochran's attorney, Page Pate, continues to deny there is any evidence the judge was involved in the setup.

"There's been a lot of implication and a lot of assumption but no evidence," he said Friday.

Joyce could be given anything from no prison time to 20 years at his sentencing Aug. 23.

Joyce' father, Gerald Joyce Jr., said he is afraid for his son and doesn't know what will happen to him. He believes his son didn't realize the magnitude of his decision.

"There's no telling what he would do to help out a friend," he said.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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