Man paroled in conspiracy to photograph senator's ill wife

AP News
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Posted: Apr 19, 2016 8:06 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi blogger is out of prison after serving several months for sneaking into a nursing home to shoot unauthorized video of the ailing wife of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran during the Southern Republican's hard-fought 2014 campaign.

The Mississippi Department of Corrections confirmed to The Associated Press that 30-year-old Clayton Kelly was paroled March 17. The release was first reported Tuesday by The Clarion-Ledger daily.

Kelly pleaded guilty to conspiracy in June 2015 and was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison.

Nonviolent inmates in Mississippi may be considered for parole after serving at least one-fourth of a sentence. Adding the days Kelly was in custody before conviction, he served nearly 10 months.

"There were no violations on his record," Parole Board chairman Steven Pickett said of Kelly's time in prison, also confirming the release. He added that Kelly was released to his home in a suburb of Jackson, the state capital, and must find a job as a condition of his parole.

Rose Cochran had dementia, and images of her appeared briefly online during the contentious primary Cochran ultimately won over a tea party-backed state senator, Chris McDaniel.

Investigators said Kelly was one of four people who conspired to produce a video suggesting Thad Cochran was having an affair. Cochran's campaign denied the allegation.

Cochran, who served six years in the House before winning a Senate seat in 1978, defeated McDaniel in the June 2014 primary just weeks after the images had emerged. Cochran went on to victory that fall in what was his hardest-fought re-election effort. He regained his position as Senate Appropriations Committee chairman as the GOP took the Senate majority in the 2014 election.

Rose Cochran died in December 2014. The senator married a longtime aide in May 2015.

Chuck Harrison, the Madison police officer who led the investigation, testified during Kelly's sentencing hearing that Kelly gave officers full access to his computers and passwords. Kelly acknowledged during a videotaped interview with police that he had gone to the nursing home three times to try to obtain video of Rose Cochran, Harrison said: He didn't get in the first two times but got in and shot the cellphone video on Easter Sunday in April 2014.

Harrison read part of Kelly's interview in court, including a portion in which he told officers, "'After I took the video, I was sick to my stomach.'"

Kelly, who had a blog called Constitutional Clayton, told police that he debated with himself about whether to post the image of Rose Cochran because he thought she was being exploited, Harrison said. Kelly chose to post it, in part, to make a name for himself as a journalist, Harrison testified.

Circuit Judge William Circuit Chapman said during the sentencing: "I don't believe any responsible journalist would have been involved in any kind of activity like this."

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .