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Lawyer says Sen. Cochran’s marriage helps blogger’s defense

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran’s new marriage to his executive assistant could become part of a blogger’s defense against charges related to photos taken of the Mississippi Republican’s now-deceased first wife while she was incapacitated with dementia.

Clayton Kelly of Pearl faces charges of conspiracy, burglary and attempted burglary tied to pictures he took of Rose Cochran after he entered a Madison nursing home in April 2014. Kelly used those images in a video that was briefly posted online to suggest that Thad Cochran was having an inappropriate relationship with aide Kay Webber.

Defense lawyer Kevin Camp said Thad Cochran’s wedding Saturday, less than six months after the death of Rose Cochran, lends credence to Kelly’s statements.

“It actually now sort of comes out that there was something,” Camp said. “I think it’s good for them and bad for us.”

Madison County District Attorney Michael Guest did not immediately respond Tuesday to questions about whether the marriage would affect the prosecution. Kelly is scheduled for trial June 8 in Madison County Circuit Court.

Camp questions whether any laws were broken.

“What he did, it’s not what you or I would do,” the lawyer said. “Whether or not it’s illegal is different.”

Rose Cochran died in December at age 73 from complications of dementia after living in a nursing home for 13 years.

Webber has worked for Cochran since 1981, and both are 77, spokesman Chris Gallegos said. Webber makes $165,000 a year working for Cochran, who is the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman. Gallegos said Webber will continue working for Cochran and is not changing her last name.

Gallegos said Cochran’s grown son and daughter and Webber’s two grown daughters attended the wedding, which was held at the Gulfport home of Cochran staffer Myrtis Franke and her husband, attorney Paul Franke. The Rev. Jane Stanley, a founder of religious and educational nonprofit the Nourishing Place, officiated.

Daughter Kate Cochran said Tuesday that she and her brother are pleased with their father’s new marriage. Kate Cochran had posted on Facebook and Twitter that she wishes “every happiness” for her father’s new marriage.

“This was a happy event,” Kate Cochran told The Associated Press.

Asked about her posts to social media, Kate Cochran said: “I just wanted to make it clear he was not acting in a way that my brother and I disapproved of.”

A week after Kelly was arrested, a Mississippi tea party leader and two other men were arrested and charged with being involved with the unauthorized photographing of Rose Cochran in her nursing home bed.

On the day that the three men were arrested — May 22, 2014 — Cochran campaign spokesman Jordan Russell told The Associated Press that any suggestion the senator was having an improper relationship outside his marriage was “outrageous and offensive and the dirtiest form of politics. As we see from the arrests today, these people will stop at nothing to smear Thad Cochran, including a despicable act like the one committed against Rose Cochran.”

AP asked Russell that day about rumors that Sen. Cochran was romantically involved with Webber. Russell said Webber was the second most senior person on Cochran’s Senate staff.

“She’s a trusted aide, and their relationship is professional. Any other suggestion is offensive and outrageous,” Russell said then.

The tea party leader who was arrested in the photo case, Mark Mayfield, later died in what police said was a suicide. Charges against the other two men have been resolved.

On Tuesday, AP called Russell and asked whether he had told the truth in 2014 about the relationship between Sen. Cochran and Webber.

“That was the nature of their relationship as it was described to me,” Russell said.

The AP on Tuesday also asked Gallegos when Cochran and Webber moved beyond a professional relationship. Gallegos did not immediately respond to that request.

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