published Friday, May 16th, 2014

Former Murray County Magistrate Bryant Cochran, in shackles, pleads not guilty

Other pleas

Guilty pleas related to this case:

• Former Murray County Sheriff's Office Capt. Michael Henderson pleaded guilty to obstruction, sentenced to one year in prison

• Former Murray County Sheriff's Office deputy Josh Greeson pleaded guilty to obstruction, sentenced to 10 months in prison

• Clifford "C.J." Joyce pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute a controlled substance, sentenced to 18 months in prison

ROME, Ga. — Former Murray County Magistrate Bryant Cochran walked into a federal courtroom Thursday afternoon for an arraignment, his wrists bound with handcuffs, his legs shackled.

"I'm no better than anybody else," he said about 30 minutes later. "It didn't bother me. It is troubling, but ... "

"He's ready to get this behind him," Cochran's attorney, Page Pate said, jumping in as he stood next to the former judge outside the U.S. District Court in Rome, Ga.

"Beginning to an end," Cochran added, implying that the looming court case ultimately will justify him.

Cochran, 44, pleaded not guilty in front of U.S. District Court Magistrate Walter Johnson on Thursday. The judge then released him on his own recognizance.

On Wednesday, federal prosecutors issued an indictment against Cochran, claiming he ordered a citizen to plant methamphetamine on one of Cochran's enemies before telling two Murray County sheriff's officers to find the drugs and arrest the woman.

Prosecutors also allege that, during his four years as Murray County magistrate, Cochran sexually assaulted a female employee, searched for private photos in another female employee's phone and told a witness to lie to law enforcement officers who were investigating Cochran.

If convicted, Cochran could face 20 years in prison. He has denied those allegations since they surfaced in August 2012.

"I'd like to let everyone know that I've certainly not sexually harassed anybody or had anything to do with planting drugs," he said Thursday.

In April 2012, Angela Garmley visited Cochran's office. She asked him to take out a warrant against people who apparently beat her up. In response, Garmley later said, Cochran asked her to return to her office in a tight dress without underwear. She sent him a picture of herself, and Cochran issued the warrant.

In July 2012, Garmley reported Cochran to the Judicial Qualifications Commission. Cochran stepped down amidst that panel's investigation. Around the same time, the Murray County Sheriff's Office arrested Garmley for possession of methamphetamine.

But those charges were dropped when Cochran's tenant, Clifford "C.J." Joyce, told the district attorney's office that he planted methamphetamine in a metal tin under the front fender of Garmley's car.

According to federal prosecutors, Murray County sheriff's deputy Josh Greeson stopped Garmley two days later. When members of the sheriff's office couldn't find any drugs, Greeson called Capt. Michael Henderson, Cochran's cousin. Henderson then told Greeson where to find the metal tin.

Prosecutors say Cochran orchestrated the charade.

In February, U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy dismissed Garmley's civil lawsuit against Cochran, saying Cochran had "judicial immunity" for his actions and that Garmley's attorneys couldn't prove Cochran actually did what they claimed. After looking through the indictments against Cochran, Garmley's attorney, Stuart James, said Thursday that he planned to refile the lawsuit.

"We're back," James said.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at tjett@timesfreepress.com.

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