Former Murray County Chief Magistrate Judge Bryant L. Cochran has been indicted for sexually assaulting a county employee, for framing a woman who alleged that she had been sexually propositioned by Cochran, and for tampering with a witness.
“Cochran is charged with crimes that reflect that he completely abused the power and trust given to him by the people of Murray County,” said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. “First, he attempted to use his judicial position to solicit sexual favors from a female citizen. And, once the alleged misconduct came to light, Cochran tried to use his power and influence to cover up the incident by having the citizen framed for drug possession and by tampering with a witness.”
J. Britt Johnson, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, stated: “This latest indictment brings to light additional details of an orchestrated scheme full of false allegations lodged against one citizen but, in the end, costing the careers and reputations of those public servants making them. The FBI will continue to work with its various law enforcement partners in investigating all matters regarding public corruption.”
“It is important for citizens to have confidence in public officials, especially those entrusted with upholding and enforcing the law. The indictment of Cochran shows that people in these positions will be held accountable when they are involved in criminal activity. The GBI is committed to work with our federal partners to insure those in a position of trust are held accountable,” said Vernon Keenan, Director, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
According to United States Attorney Yates, the charges, and other information presented in court: From January 1, 2004 to August 15, 2012, Bryant Cochran served as the Chief Magistrate Judge in Murray County, Ga. In that position, Cochran sexually assaulted a Murray County employee and unlawfully searched the personal cellular telephone of another Murray County employee.
In addition, on April 9, 2012, Cochran met with a female citizen regarding a legal matter. During the meeting, Cochran made inappropriate sexual advances towards the citizen. By mid-July 2012, the allegations of Cochran’s sexual misconduct towards the citizen had become public. In response, Cochran called several local police officers providing them with a “tip” – that the citizen carried drugs in her vehicle.
In an effort to discredit the citizen, on or about August 12, 2012, Clifford J. Joyce (who was a tenant of Cochran’s and who has been convicted of conspiring to distribute a controlled substance) planted a metal tin containing five packets of methamphetamine under the fender of the citizen’s car.
Two days later, on August 14, 2012, Murray County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Joshua Greeson (who has since been convicted of witness tampering) conducted a traffic stop on a car occupied by the citizen. During the traffic stop, several officers and a police drug dog searched the car for approximately 15 to 20 minutes – but did not find any drugs. Thereafter, Captain Michael Henderson (who is Cochran’s cousin and who has also been convicted of witness tampering) had an approximately two minute telephone conversation with Cochran. Following that call, Henderson told an officer at the scene that according to his information; the citizen hid her drugs in a magnetic box under the left, rear tire well. Upon receiving that information, Greeson found the metal box magnetically attached to the car in that precise location. Inside the box, Greeson recovered five small packets containing methamphetamine. Greeson then told the citizen that he had recovered drugs from her car. At that point, the citizen stated that she had been set up. Despite this, Greeson arrested the citizen and transported her to jail.
On August 15, 2012, the day after the arrest, Cochran resigned his position as Murray County’s Chief Magistrate Judge. On August 22, 2012, Joyce admitted to law enforcement officers that he planted drugs – after which the local District Attorney dismissed the charges against the woman. Finally, in an apparent effort to cover up the framing of the woman, Cochran tried to persuade a witness to provide false information to law enforcement officers.
On May 13, 2014, a federal grand jury indicted Cochran, 44, of Chatsworth, Ga. for: (1) Conspiracy against Rights; (2) Deprivation of Rights under Color of Law, (3) Conspiracy to Distribute a Controlled Substance, and (4) Tampering with a Witness. The most serious of the charges carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. In determining the actual sentence, the Court will consider the United States Sentencing Guidelines, which are not binding but provide appropriate sentencing ranges for most offenders.
Members of the public are reminded that the indictment only contains charges. The defendant is presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government’s burden to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Assistant United States Attorneys Jeffrey W. Davis and William L. McKinnon Jr. are prosecuting the case.