Two people have been arrested for criminal conspiracy for working with conservative blogger Clayton Kelly
Mark Mayfield (Mississippi Tea Party leader)
Richard Sager (Laurel school teacher)
Tea party leader, Laurel man arrested in Cochran case
Authorities say the vice chairman of the Mississippi Tea Party and two other men conspired with Clayton Kelly to photograph U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran's bedridden wife in her nursing home and create a political video against Cochran.
Mark Mayfield of Ridgeland, an attorney and state and local tea party leader, was arrested Thursday along with Richard Sager, a Laurel elementary school P.E. teacher and high school soccer coach. Police said they also charged John Beachman Mary of Hattiesburg, but he was not taken into custody because of "extensive medical conditions." All face felony conspiracy charges. Sager also was charged with felony tampering with evidence, and Mary faces two conspiracy counts.
The arrest of Mayfield, well-known in political, business and legal circles, caused shock in Mississippi, in a criminal case and election that already had Mississippi in the national spotlight.
Mayfield's attorneys — Merrida Coxwell and Mayfield's brother-in-law, former state Rep. John Reeves — quickly posted cash for Mayfield's release on a $250,000 bond but called it excessive. They and Kelly's attorney said the case appears to be politically driven.
"There's a lot of bigger powers moving, and that's why this case wasn't handled the way it should be," said Kelly's attorney Kevin Camp, who argued Kelly should face, at worst, a misdemeanor. Instead, felony charges of conspiracy and photo voyeurism were added to the count of exploitation of a vulnerable adult he already faced. He faces a total of 20 years in prison.
"It's all about politics," Camp said.
Cochran's opponent in a bitter GOP primary race, tea party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville, continued to deny any involvement with Kelly or the video and to accuse Cochran of gaming the incident for political points.
Authorities said they have no evidence at this point linking the alleged conspiracy to a campaign. But Cochran's camp has continued to question when and how McDaniel and his staff knew of it, and point to inconsistent answers McDaniel and others on the campaign have given since Kelly's arrest Friday night.
McDaniel in a statement Tuesday called on Cochran to take down a new ad. It says a "Chris McDaniel supporter has been charged with a felony for photographing his wife in a nursing home. Had enough? … Rise up against dirty politics."
McDaniel said, "It is shameful for a sitting U.S. senator to engage in such desperate slander and lies."
Mayfield has been an ardent supporter of McDaniel, as have the Mississippi Tea Party and the Central Mississippi Tea Party, both of which list Mayfield on their boards of directors. Tea party officials did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
A photo posted recently on the McDaniel campaign's Facebook page shows Mayfield and other volunteers, saying, "Here's part of a crew that reached over 500 homes walking in Madison today. Great work team!"
Kelly, 28, of Pearl is a McDaniel supporter and an aspiring political blogger with the site "Constitutional Clayton." His friends and family say he wanted to make a name for himself and the blog, and was egged on by others over the Internet to do a hit piece on Cochran. He was trying to claim Cochran has a mistress — which Cochran has denied — while his wife languishes in a nursing home.
Kelly's wife said someone on the Internet gave him info on how to find Rose Cochran at St. Catherine's Village, and he photographed her on Easter Sunday.