- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

CANTON, Miss. (AP) - The trial of a political blogger who shook up last year’s Senate election by photographing U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran’s bedridden wife opens Monday in Madison County Circuit Court.

Clayton Kelly, 29, of Pearl, was indicted last fall on charges of conspiracy, attempted burglary and burglary.

Kelly has filed numerous motions in the case, including a motion to dismiss, one calling for a change of venue because of pretrial news coverage and questioning whether prosecutors have a conflict of interest in the case. The motions are to be heard Monday. Jury selection is expected to begin Tuesday.

Kelly is alleged to have photographed the late Rose Cochran in April 2014 without permission in a nursing home and posted her image online. Investigators have said conspirators intended to use images of Rose Cochran to advance allegations that her husband, the senator, was having an inappropriate relationship.

Thad Cochran won re-election while 73-year-old Rose Cochran died in December after suffering from dementia for years. Cochran married longtime aide Kay Webber in May.

The Clarion-Ledger reports (https://on.thec-l.com/1Jrpizu ) Kelly’s attorney Kevin Camp plans to call the Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler as a witness and has listed Sen. Cochran as a potential witness. The prosecution has listed numerous potential witnesses, including state Sen. Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez, who was campaign manager for state Sen. Chris McDaniel, Cochran’s primary opponent last year.

A Cochran lawyer has said that after viewing the video and considering what to do, lawyers contacted Mayor Butler, a longtime Cochran friend and supporter, to get police involved. The defense in the case has claimed charges and prosecution appear political. Butler has said she has not been involved with the investigation, and reiterated that on Thursday.

“When you’re mayor of a city, sometimes friends have encounters with the police department,” Butler told the newspaper. “I have always stayed out of it and just let the police department do its job. I do not do it. I do not get involved.”

While Kelly and others initially charged in the case were McDaniel supporters, McDaniel called Kelly’s actions “despicable” and he and his campaign denied any involvement. Prosecutors said they found no direct connection to the campaign. Cochran’s campaign questioned when the McDaniel camp knew of Kelly or the video, and used the nursing home incident in an ad against McDaniel.

Sojourner said she was unaware she had been listed as a potential prosecution witness.

“I am uncertain as to why I am listed, as I do not know Clayton Kelly, nor have I ever had any communication with him whatsoever,” Sojourner said. “However, if the prosecution needs me, I’d be more than willing to testify regarding anything I know. On this topic, that is very limited.”

District Attorney Michael Guest said his office provided Camp with a list of anyone we thought could be a potential witness.

“We don’t anticipate everybody on that list would be called in our case in chief, but they might need to be called at some point in rebuttal,” Guest said.

Charges against three others have been resolved.

Richard Sager, a Laurel teacher and coach, who had been charged with conspiracy and tampering with evidence, entered a pretrial diversion program. His case won’t be prosecuted if he successfully completes the program.

John Mary of Hattiesburg pleaded guilty in August to conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with investigators. Mary received no jail time and could have the conviction wiped from his record if he completes probation.

Ridgeland Attorney Mark Mayfield, who was charged with conspiracy, committed suicide in June.


Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, https://www.clarionledger.com

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