- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

ROME, Ga. (AP) - A former northwest Georgia judge has been sentenced to prison for framing a woman on drug charges after she turned down his sexual advances, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

Former Murray County chief magistrate judge Bryant Cochran, 45, of Chatsworth, was sentenced to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and is ordered to serve 100 hours of community service. He was convicted of conspiracy against rights, deprivation of rights, conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and tampering with a witness.

Cochran made sexual advances toward a woman he met with in April 2012 to discuss a legal matter and offered to rule in her favor in exchange for sex, investigators have said.

The woman turned Cochran down and investigators have said the judge retaliated to try discrediting her after sexual harassment allegations against him surfaced in the media.

Cochran conspired with Clifford J. Joyce, who rented property from him, to plant drugs in the woman’s car, prosecutors said. Cochran also conspired with his cousin, Michael Henderson - a captain in the local sheriff’s department - to have the woman arrested, prosecutors said.

Joyce used a magnet to fasten a metal tin containing methamphetamine to the fender of the woman’s car and Cochran called local and state law enforcement saying the woman had drugs in her vehicle, prosecutors have said.

Deputy Joshua Greeson stopped the woman Aug. 14, 2012 and prosecutors said several officers and a drug-sniffing dog searched her vehicle but didn’t find drugs.

After the search, Henderson and Cochran spoke by phone and Henderson told a deputy at the scene that the drugs would be in a box near the vehicle’s rear tire well, prosecutors said. Greeson found the box and the woman was arrested on drug charges.

Cochran resigned a day after the woman was arrested.

In mid-July 2012, the Judicial Qualifications Commission opened an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Cochran. Investigators also said they discovered evidence that Cochran had pre-signed blank warrants law enforcement officers could use when he was out of the office.

When Cochran resigned, his attorney Page Pate said the judge took responsibility for the pre-signed warrants and that was the only reason for his resignation.

A week after Cochran resigned Joyce admitted that he planted the drugs on her car. Charges against the woman were dropped after Joyce’s admission.

Prosecutors have said Cochran also tried persuading a witness to lie to investigators to cover up the fraudulent arrest, and three former county employees also sued Cochran for sexual harassment. Authorities on Wednesday said Cochran also sexually assaulted a county court worker and illegally searched another county employee’s phone.

Cochran is the fourth defendant to be sentenced in the case.

Greeson was sentenced in September 2013 to 10 months in prison for tampering with a witness. Henderson was sentenced in October 2013 to one year and one day in prison for the same charge. Joyce was sentenced in December 2013 to one year and six months in prison for conspiring to distribute a controlled substance.

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