The vice chairman of the Mississippi Tea Party was among three men arrested in connection with a political blogger's latest attempt to photograph Sen. Thad Cochran's (R-MS) wife as she slept inside her nursing home, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported on Thursday.
[Editor's note: This story has been updated. Please see below.]
Attorney Mark Mayfield was charged with conspiracy, along with physical education teacher Richard Sager and another man, John Beachman Mary. Sager was charged separately for felony tampering with evidence. Mary, who was not taken into custody because of "extensive medical conditions," was charged with two additional counts of conspiracy.
Police said the three men conspired with 28-year-old Clayton Thomas Kelly to sneak into Rose Cochran's nursing home to take a picture of her. The Clarion-Ledger reported that the footage was going to be used as part of a video accusing Thad Cochran (pictured above) of having an affair while his wife was in the nursing home, where she was placed in 2000 for dementia.
Both Kelly and the state Tea Party have come out in support of Cochran's primary opponent, state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R), but the former conservative radio host's campaign has denied any link to the incident.
"As we have said since day one, the violation of the privacy of Mrs. Cochran is out of bounds for politics and is reprehensible," McDaniel said in a statement on Thursday. "Any individuals who were involved in this crime should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
Authorities said on Thursday that they have not established any connection between McDaniel's campaign and Kelly's actions. However, Cochran's campaign has argued that McDaniel and his staff knew about Kelly's arrest before it was reported to the public, and released an ad identifying Kelly as a "McDaniel supporter [who was] charged with a felony for photographing his wife in a nursing home."
In response, McDaniel posted a separate statement on the state Tea Party website accusing Cochran of "shameful slander" and chiding him for not engaging in a public debate with him.
"I will not engage either your campaign or the liberal media in their absurd witch hunt," McDaniel's statement read. "No matter how many press releases your campaign puts out, I will simply not stoop to your level. Win or lose, I'd like to be able to wake up on June 4th and be proud of the primary campaign I ran on behalf of Mississippi. Trailing in the polls, your campaign has made it apparent they will say and do anything to win."
Kelly was arrested on May 16 and charged with exploitation of a vulnerable adult, conspiracy and photo voyeurism. It was allegedly Kelly's third attempt to photograph Rose Cochran.
Mayfield was released after his attorneys, who include former state Rep. John Reeves (R) posted a $250,000 bond. But both they and Kelly's attorney, Kevin Camp, described the arrests as being politically motivated.
"There's a lot of bigger powers moving," Camp was quoted as saying. "That's why this case wasn't handled the way it should be."
Update, 11:50 p.m. EST: The Clarion-Ledger reported that Mary is a former host of The Right Side radio show, on which McDaniel has made several controversial statements. For his part, Mayfield allegedly organized political events on behalf of a group he started, the Senate Conservative Coalition.
[Image via Sen. Thad Cochran official YouTube page]