ROME, Ga. — Twelve citizens will get together this morning and try to decide whether a former judge should spend years in a prison cell.
After deliberating for about two hours in U.S. District Court on Wednesday afternoon, the jury in Bryant Cochran's criminal trial failed to reach a verdict. The group went home for the night and will try again today.
Federal prosecutors spent a week trying to prove to the jury that Cochran masterminded a conspiracy to frame a woman who had filed a complaint against him. In closing arguments Wednesday morning, a pair of prosecutors argued that Cochran did this to put Angela Garmley in jail, to publicly shame her, to shut her up.
Cochran, the former Murray County magistrate, faces other criminal charges connected to his official acts. He is accused of depriving someone of civil rights, conspiring to distribute methamphetamine and tampering with a witness. He could go to federal prison for 20 years, perhaps longer.
"When you look at all the evidence together and all the facts and all the circumstances, you see Cochran's involvement," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Davis said. "Plain as day."
On April 9, 2012, Garmley visited Cochran asking for warrants against three people who had fought her the day before. She later said Cochran pressed her to become his mistress and she texted an intimate picture at his request.
Garmley did not keep these text messages. An analysis of Cochran's phone show that he later deleted 102 text messages between April 9 -- the day he met Garmley -- and April 11.
Garmley testified her husband called the Judicial Qualifications Commission -- the group that disciplines Georgia's judges -- and a local TV station that summer after Cochran told him she tried to have sex with Cochran.
"The evidence doesn't match the story. It's frustrating to me. Frankly, it's scary. The story is so good you won't look at the evidence."
After Garmley's allegations became public, Cochran told several law enforcement officers she had methamphetamine in her car. On Aug. 12, 2012, Garmley's sister testified, she saw a man named Clifford "C.J." Joyce entering Garmley's house around 1:30 a.m.
Garmley testified that Joyce -- who did work for Cochran -- seemed nervous and stayed only for a few minutes before leaving out the back window, next to her Dodge Challenger.
Two days later, Murray County Deputy Josh Greeson stopped Garmley. Greeson couldn't find any drugs, so Capt. Mike Henderson called Cochran, phone records show. A few minutes later, Henderson then said the drugs were in a metal can attached to the bottom of Garmley's car.
A local district attorney soon dropped the charges against Garmley, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation charged Henderson and Greeson with obstruction. They charged Joyce with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
All three have since pleaded guilty.
A man named Mike Winkler testified that Cochran asked him to lie to the GBI and say he'd given Cochran the tip about the meth in Garmley's car.
On Wednesday, prosecutors told the jury why they think Cochran tried to frame Garmley: He had to resign from office as a result of her allegations. Garmley embarrassed him.
"She cost him his job as a magistrate judge," Davis said. "She cost him his power. She started a JQC investigation. She put his face on TV."
Cochran's defense attorney, Page Pate, called this narrative "a sensational story," but said not enough facts support this version of events.
Pate said Garmley is lying, that she is a known drug user who threw Cochran under the bus when deputies arrested her yet again.
He put a picture of Garmley in just her underwear on the courtroom screens, kept it there for several minutes. He told the jury that Garmley tried to entrap Cochran, who did not testify in his trial.
Pate said he was shocked that federal prosecutors could possibly believe their own story and told the jury the accusations against his client are a media fabrication. Examine the facts, he begged.
"The evidence doesn't match the story," he said. "It's frustrating to me. Frankly, it's scary. The story is so good you won't look at the evidence."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6476.