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Former Murray County Magistrate Bryant Cochran, left, exits the Federal Courthouse in Rome, Ga., followed by his attorney Page Pate, right, after a sentencing hearing on Wednesday, July 7, 2015.

ROME, Ga. — Former Murray County Magistrate Bryant Cochran will go to federal prison for five years.

Saying Cochran "absolutely destroyed" the public's trust in the justice system, U.S. District Court Judge Harold Murphy on Wednesday gave Cochran a sentence about twice as long as his attorney requested. Cochran chose not to defend himself, knowing anything he said could be used against him in a future appeal.

In August 2012, federal and state investigators say, Cochran orchestrated the arrest of Angela Garmley for revenge after Garmley accused him of sexual harassment. A jury convicted Cochran in December when prosecutors convinced them that Cochran ordered his tenant to plant drugs on Garmley's car, then told members of the Murray County Sheriff's Office to arrest her. Jurors found him guilty of conspiracy and deprivation of rights, conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and witness tampering.

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In December, a federal jury convicted Bryant Cochran of six charges:

Conspiracy against a person’s rights

Deprivation of rights under the color of law

Deprivation of rights under the color of law

Deprivation of rights under the color of law

Conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance (methamphetamine)

Tampering with a witness

 

Federal prosecutors asked Murphy to sentence Cochran to 6 1/2 years in prison. Cochran's attorney, Page Pate, asked for a sentence of about three years.

Murphy chose five years.

"When a judge clearly violates the trust put in him or her by the public," Murphy told Cochran, "it is not a minor offense. The public needs confidence that a judicial officer who does wrong will be punished."

Cochran, who has been out on bond since his conviction, will soon report to a prison — he requested a minimum security facility in Pensacola, Fla. After serving five years, he will be on probation for three more years. He also must perform 100 hours of community service.

Pate will appeal the conviction in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In his whole career, he said, he has never been more surprised by a case's outcome.

"When I heard the verdict in this case, it didn't sit right with me," he said. "I didn't expect a guilty verdict on all counts."

Before Murphy pronounced a sentence, Garmley read a statement in open court about how she visited Cochran's office in April 2012, how she asked him to issue arrest warrants days after her neighbors assaulted her on Easter morning. She described how Cochran propositioned her for sex and lewd pictures, how she reported him to the Judicial Qualifications Commission and how she was arrested weeks later.

Police found methamphetamine in the wheel well of her car. She swore the drugs weren't hers.

"Mr. Cochran caused me great emotional pain," Garmley told Murphy. "From that moment, my life would never be the same."

Pate, arguing for a lesser sentence, conceded that his client should go to prison, even though he does not believe Cochran is guilty. That's just how the justice system works, he said.

If Cochran committed a crime, he was able to do so only by using the power of his magistrate position. He resigned in August 2012 amid the Judicial Qualifications Commission's investigation. His attorney believes two or three years behind bars would suffice.

"If you go beyond that," Pate said, "we've got to question why as a society we want to pay $30,000 a year to lock him up when he's not a threat anymore."

Last week, Pate gave Murphy a stack of letters from Cochran's friends and family, pleading for a light sentence.

"My dad is a really nice guy," his daughter wrote.

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Former Murray County Magistrate Bryant Cochran, facing camera at left, exits the Federal Courthouse in Rome, Ga., with supporters and his attorney Page Pate after a sentencing hearing on Wednesday, July 7, 2015.

"It would ruin my life if I could not see him," his son wrote.

"Bryant was just an all around good child who turned into a good man," his mother wrote.

"He often had a joke on his lips, more often than not, directed at getting a reaction," a family friend wrote. "A trait that I am afraid, allowed some to misinterpret his intentions."

But on Wednesday, Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey Davis told Murphy that those letters are built on a false premise.

"If Mr. Cochran really cared about his mother and his family," Davis said, "he wouldn't do something to end up in jail."

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

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