Society

Former GA Judge Convicted Of Six Federal Crimes Including Framing Employee For Drug Possession

| by Jared Keever
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A federal jury convicted a former Georgia judge last week of six charges, including conspiring to have an employee arrested for drug possession. 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Bryant Cochran, who was once chief judge of Murray County Magistrate Court, will return to court after the first of the year to be sentenced for his crimes. 

After deliberating for four hours over two days, the jury found Cochran guilty Thursday of sexually harassing a female employee, of illegally searching through another female employee’s phone, of framing a woman for arrest and of asking a friend to lie to investigators. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Davis said he was pleased with the verdicts. 

“I think the jury recognized through Cochran’s course of conduct that he was guilty as charged,” Davis told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “I think they were able to make all the connections that we put forward.”

Female employees who testified during the trial said the office, run by Cochran, was a hostile and often uncomfortable place to work. 

Virginia Rector, a former clerk of Cochran’s court, said the former judge sexually harassed her for years but she was afraid to report the crime until she retired. 

“He had a lot of friends in the county,” Rector testified Dec. 3. “I would get fired and nobody would know. … It’s not right. It’s not fair.”

Another employee testified she caught the former judge looking through her cell phone. 

One woman, Angela Garmley, who, along with her husband, stood up to Cochran, ended up being framed for drug possession, the prosecutors told the jury. 

Garmley testified that in 2012 she asked Cochran to issue warrants for three people she said had beaten her. 

Garmley told jurors that Cochran responded by saying he needed a mistress and asked her if she liked oral sex. She said the two talked and traded text messages for about a week. Months later, she testified, Cochran told her husband that she had flirted with him. 

Joe Garmley reported the relationship to the Judicial Qualifications Commission and local media outlets, putting Cochran’s career in jeopardy.

Prosecutors said Cochran retaliated by having methamphetamine placed in Angela Garmley’s car and tipping local officers to its presence. When police found the drugs, she was arrested and charged. 

Those charges were later dropped and the two officers involved in the arrest pleaded guilty to obstruction charges. Another man implicated in the plot also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance. 

The subsequent investigation into the plot led to the most serious charge for which Cochran was convicted. Prosecutors said Cochran tampered with a witness when he asked his friend, Mike Winkler, to tell investigators that it was he, not Cochran, who tipped the officers to the location of the drugs. 

Cochran faces up to 20 years in a federal prison for the tampering conviction alone. 

U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy is scheduled to sentence Cochran Feb. 20 for all six charges. 

Sources: The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionChattanooga Times Free Press / Photo Credit: Chattanooga Times Free Press, Becuo.com