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November 22, 2014

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Senator says unauthorized photo incident ‘bizarre’

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AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Flanked by law officers, conservative blogger Clayton Thomas Kelly, 28 of Pearl, Miss., is escorted in Madison, Miss., city court, Thursday, May 22, 2014, for a hearing on allegations that he took photos of Rose Cochran, the ailing wife of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., without her permission at the nursing home where she’s lived for 13 years.

JACKSON, Miss. — Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi said Friday that it's "unfortunate" and "sort of bizarre" that somebody photographed his ailing wife in a nursing home and posted her image online in a political video against him.

A conservative blogger and three others have been arrested in the past week and charged with at least one felony each in what Madison police call a conspiracy to take unauthorized photos of 72-year-old Rose Cochran, who has dementia.

Cochran spoke to a small group of reporters Friday outside a campaign event in Jackson, according to WAPT-TV.

"It's an unfortunate, sort of bizarre incident, but it's being handled by the authorities and I trust in their good judgment," said Cochran, who has been in Washington most of the week.

He also said: "The nursing home people are worried, you know, about the impact it might have on their reputation. But I think everybody is trying to do the right thing."

The photo incident has created turmoil during the final two weeks of a campaign in which a tea party-backed candidate, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, is trying to defeat a former Senate Appropriations Committee chairman who's been in Washington more than 40 years. The primary is June 3.

McDaniel has said repeatedly that his campaign had nothing to do with the photos. He called the violation of Rose Cochran's privacy "reprehensible."

She has lived in St. Catherine's Village nursing home in Madison for the past 13 years. The Cochran family says she has lost the ability to speak and is receiving hospice care.

Police investigator Vickie Currie said in city court Thursday that when blogger Clayton Kelly photographed Rose Cochran on Easter Sunday, it was his third attempt to do so. Kelly told investigators that he photographed her through a door that opened to a hallway, his attorney, Kevin Camp, told The Associated Press.

Cochran's campaign has started running a TV ad that mentions the photo incident, shows Kelly's jail mug shot and identifies Kelly as a McDaniel supporter. A narrator says: "Rise up and say 'no' to dirty politics."

McDaniel responded in a statement Friday: "It is disturbing that a United States Senator would resort to dishonest attacks and using this incident for political purposes in order to hold on to power. I call on Senator Cochran to immediately take down this disgusting negative ad and instead start talking about the issues of importance to Mississippians."

Kelly was arrested May 17, and is charged with exploitation of a vulnerable adult, conspiracy and photographing or filming of a person without permission where there is an expectation of privacy.

The three people arrested Thursday were attorney Mark Mayfield of Ridgeland, a Central Mississippi Tea Party board member who has helped raise campaign cash for McDaniel; elementary school teacher Richard Sager of Laurel; and John Mary of Hattiesburg, who took over hosting a conservative talk radio show formerly hosted by McDaniel. Mary used John Bert as his on-air name. McDaniel left the radio job before his election to the state Senate in 2007.

Mayfield is charged with conspiracy. Sager is charged with evidence tampering and conspiracy. Mary is charged with conspiracy involving the exploitation of a vulnerable person and photographing or filming of a person without permission where there is an expectation of privacy.

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