Mississippi is home to what may be the most contentious primary election in the country. It’s also the scene of one of the oddest political stories of the year.
Three men were charged with conspiracy Thursday in an incident that has come to dominate political discussion in the state.
Supporters of state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who is challenging Mississippi Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, allegedly conspired to take and publish photographs of Cochran’s wife, Rose, at her nursing home.
Rose Cochran suffers from progressive dementia and has been bedridden for years.
Last Friday, police arrested Clayton Kelly, a blogger who allegedly took her photograph and used it as part of a video that was posted on his blog, Constitutional Clayton. He was charged with “exploiting a vulnerable adult.”
On Wednesday, prosecutors also accused Kelly of violating a “peeping Tom” law meant to protect people from being photographed in places where there is an expectation of privacy.
Kelly may face conspiracy charges. Three other men were charged on Thursday.
Mark Mayfield, an attorney whom the Jackson Clarion-Ledger identified as being vice chairman of the Mississippi Tea Party, faces a conspiracy charge. Richard Sager, an elementary school physical education teacher, has been charged with conspiracy and tampering with evidence. Police have also charged a man named John Mary in the case, the Clarion-Ledger reports, but authorities did not say whether he had been arrested.
Kevin Camp, Kelly’s attorney, said his client did not know Mayfield or Sager and had never heard of them before today. Camp complained in court Thursday that the case is not being handled correctly because “it’s all about politics.”
The June 3 Republican Senate primary has drawn large amounts of money from outside the state and has been described as the Tea Party’s “last, best hope” of unseating a so-called establishment Republican this year.
McDaniel has said his campaign had “absolutely nothing” to do with the incident.
On Thursday, he released a statement saying, “The violation of the privacy of Mrs. Cochran is out of bounds for politics and is reprehensible. Any individuals who were involved in this crime should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The Cochran campaign held a conference call with reporters on Wednesday and questioned whether McDaniel or his campaign knew about the incident or had hampered the investigation. McDaniel published an open letter to Cochran calling such accusations “shameful slander.”