By Jeff Amy
JACKSON – One of the men charged in a conspiracy to photograph U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran’s ailing wife pleaded guilty Wednesday, drawing no jail time in a plea agreement in which he pledged to cooperate with prosecutors.
John Mary of Hattiesburg pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to commit a computer crime. In a court appearance in Canton, Madison County Circuit Judge William Chapman sentenced Mary to five years’ probation and no fine. If Mary successfully completes probation, the charge will be removed from his record. The crime carries a sentence of up to five years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
Mary’s lawyer Doug Lee said prosecutors recommended the sentence as part of the agreement.
“John has been cooperative from the very moment police first contacted him,” Lee said. “He’s always told the truth and he’s been adamant about taking responsibility. He’s very sorry for any pain he has caused to Rose Cochran’s family.”
Authorities say Clayton Kelly of Pearl photographed 72-year-old Rose Cochran without permission on Easter Sunday, in the nursing home where she’s lived the past 13 years with dementia. The Cochran family says she has lost the ability to speak and is receiving hospice care.
Kelly and teacher Richard Sager of Laurel still face charges in the case. A third man who was charged, attorney Mark Mayfield of Ridgeland, committed suicide at his home on June 27, authorities said. All four men are supporters of Thad Cochran’s challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel.
McDaniel has said he and his campaign had nothing to do with the incident, which he called “reprehensible.” His campaign also said Cochran exploited the situation for sympathy and political advantage.
Kelly’s lawyer said last week that he didn’t expect Kelly’s case to be presented during the current grand jury term in Madison County. District Attorney Michael Guest did not immediately respond when asked about whether charges against Kelly, Sager or others were imminent.
“A special condition of his probation is Mary’s continued cooperation with the ongoing investigation,” Guest wrote in an earlier text message to The Associated Press.
The April 20 image of Rose Cochran was included in a video attacking Cochran that was briefly posted online. Arrests in the incident dominated headlines during part of the race before Cochran, a six-term incumbent, defeated tea party-backed McDaniel in the Republican runoff. McDaniel has challenged certified results showing Cochran defeated him by 7,667 votes in the June 24 runoff.
Kelly was arrested May 16 and released from jail May 29 after posting a $75,000 bond. He has had pro-McDaniel photos on his Facebook page and anti-Cochran statements on his blog, Constitutional Clayton.
Mary was charged along with Mayfield and Sager on May 22. Unlike the other two, though, he was not arrested and didn’t have to post bond. Police did not jail him, citing health problems.
Mary has been involved with the tea party and took over co-hosting a conservative talk radio show under the name John Bert after McDaniel was elected to the state Senate. McDaniel appeared on the show while Mary was a host.