Former Murray County Judge Sentenced to Five Years in Federal Prison
ROME, GA—Former Murray County, Georgia, Chief Magistrate Judge Bryant L. Cochran has been sentenced to federal prison for orchestrating the false arrest of a woman who had been sexually propositioned by Cochran, for tampering with a witness, for sexually assaulting a county employee, and for illegally searching a county employee’s personal cell phone.
“Cochran completely abused the trust given to him by the good citizens of Murray County,” said Acting United States Attorney John A. Horn. “Cochran used the power of the bench to victimize a citizen seeking justice and to exploit his staff. There is no greater breakdown in the justice system than when the judge himself violates other citizens’ rights to simply advantage himself.”
“This sentencing concludes a lengthy investigation that not only ended the career of former Murray County Chief Magistrate Judge Cochran, but also the careers of two Murray County law enforcement officers,” said J. Britt Johnson, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office. “While the criminal actions of these individuals are disheartening, in the end, truth and justice prevailed.”
“Being in a position to uphold and enforce the law does not mean you are above the law,” said Vernon Keenan, Director, Georgia Bureau of Investigation. “The GBI will continue to work with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office to investigate and hold accountable those who are involved in corruption, regardless of their position.”
According to Acting U.S. Attorney Horn, 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, Georgia.
In that position, on April 9, 2012, Cochran met with a female citizen regarding a routine legal matter. During the meeting, Cochran made inappropriate sexual advances towards the citizen, including an offer to trade sex for a favorable legal ruling. By mid-July 2012, the allegations of Cochran’s sexual misconduct towards the citizen had become public and gained significant media coverage. In response, Cochran called at least six local and state police officers providing them with a so-called “tip”—that the citizen carried drugs in her vehicle. Cochran also encouraged several of the police officers to stop the citizen because pulling her over would assist Cochran and would dissipate the heat caused by her complaint.
In a further effort to discredit the citizen, Cochran conspired with Clifford J. Joyce (who was Cochran’s tenant) to have the citizen framed for drug possession. Specifically, on or about August 12, 2012, Joyce 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 ten 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 by Judge Cochran or Joyce. 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.
As the Chief Magistrate Judge, Cochran also sexually assaulted a Murray County court employee and unlawfully searched the personal cellular telephone of another Murray County employee.
On May 13, 2014, a federal grand jury indicted Cochran, 45, of Chatsworth, Georgia 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 trial of Cochran began on December 2, 2014, and on December 11, 2014, the jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts (after one day of deliberations).
Bryant L. Cochran was sentenced to five years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and 100 hours of community service.
This case also resulted in the following convictions:
- On December 13, 2013, Clifford J. Joyce, of Murray County, Ga., was sentenced to one year, six months in prison for conspiring to distribute a controlled substance.
- On October 30, 2013, Michael Henderson, of Murray County, Ga., was sentenced to one year and one day in prison for tampering with a witness.
- On September 25, 2013, Joshua Greeson, of Murray County, Ga., was sentenced to 10 months in prison for tampering with a witness.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Assistant United States Attorneys Jeffrey W. Davis and William L. McKinnon, Jr. prosecuted the case.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the home page for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia Rome Division is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.