published Friday, January 10th, 2014

Prosecutor's statements link former judge Cochran to conspiracy

The man who framed an innocent Murray County, Ga., woman didn't do it for himself, a federal prosecutor said. The man did it on behalf of a judge who happened to be his landlord.

Clifford "C.J." Joyce appeared in U.S. District Court in Rome on Dec. 13 for a sentencing hearing. Six months earlier, the 27-year-old pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy charges because of his role in the arrest of Angela Garmley.

Prosecutors say former Murray County Chief Magistrate Bryant Cochran told police to arrest Garmley after she complained that Cochran sexually harassed her. On Aug. 9, 2012, Cochran allegedly called Deputy Josh Greeson and asked him to look for drugs in Garmley's car.

Three days later, Joyce -- who lived in a trailer park owned by Cochran -- put five packets of methamphetamine into a magnetic, tin and placed the tin near one of the tires on Garmley's car.

Two days after that, Greeson stopped the car on Brown Bridge Road in Chatsworth. In an arrest report, he wrote that he made the stop because the driver failed to dim the car's lights. He then searched the car and found the drugs, charging Garmley, her husband and another man in the car.

The case dissolved soon after, and prosecutors dropped the charges. After the Georgia Bureau of Investigation began looking into the case, Greeson, Joyce and another member of the Murray County Sheriff's Office, Capt. Michael Henderson, were charged with conspiracy.

Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Harold Murphy sentenced Greeson to 10 months in prison, Henderson to one year behind bars and Joyce to one year in prison. Cochran has not been charged.

During the hearing for Joyce last month, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Davis publicly stated for the first time that a tie existed between Joyce and Cochran.

"The investigation has caused a citizen of this district thousands of man-hours and thousands of dollars," Davis said during the hearing. "And why? Because Mr. Joyce wanted to help out his landlord."

Six weeks earlier, on Oct. 30, Davis publicly stated another link between Cochran and the conspiracy against Garmley.

"You have a citizen who alleged that she was a victim of sexual advances by a judge," Davis said during Henderson's sentencing trial. "That same judge called several police officers to report that the citizen carried drugs in her car."

A spokesman for Sally Yates, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, did not return a call or respond to an email Thursday about whether Yates' office is investigating Cochran.

But Garmley's attorney, McCracken Poston, said Davis' statements during the sentencing hearings prove that Cochran was involved in the crime.

"This is the first time the prosecutor has ever revealed what they know involving Cochran," he said. "And I don't believe they've revealed it all. I believe they know much more than what they're talking about."

On Thursday, Cochran's attorney said Cochran never told Joyce to frame Garmley with drugs. He also never told anybody else to pass that message along to Joyce.

"That's their theory," Page Pate said of the prosecutor's statements in court. "That's the same theory they've had since the beginning of this investigation."

In addition to Davis' statements about Cochran's ties to Joyce and Henderson, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Herskowitz pointed out during Greeson's hearing that the deputy and Cochran talked on the phone five days before Greeson arrested Garmley.

"Between the three of those," Poston said, "I think it's a tightening noose."

Problems began between Cochran and Garmley in April 2012, when Garmley visited him in his chambers and asked him to issue warrants against three men who allegedly assaulted Garmley. Instead, Garmley said, Cochran asked her to become his mistress. After the meeting, he allegedly continued to harass her.

Garmley's complaint led the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission to investigate Cochran. In addition to the sexual harassment, the investigation revealed that Cochran would sign warrants even though officers never explained why the suspects should be arrested. On Aug. 15, the day after Garmley's arrest, Cochran stepped down as judge.

Concerning allegations that Cochran tipped a deputy off about Garmley riding around with drugs, Pate said that was not illegal. He said Cochran originally received the tip from "several different sources" before passing it along. Pate did not name those sources.

The lawyer also said his client is not scheduled to meet with federal prosecutors.

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

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