May 22, 2014 10:27:27 AM
JACKSON -- A conservative Mississippi blogger accused of taking an unauthorized photo of Republican Sen. Thad Cochran's ill wife and posting it online was to appear today in Madison city court.
The preliminary hearing is for Clayton Thomas Kelly, 28, of Pearl, who was arrested last week on a felony charge of exploiting a vulnerable adult. Police on Wednesday added a second felony charge against Kelly: photographing or filming another person without permission where there is expectation of privacy.
If convicted, the first charge carries up to 10 years in prison; the latter up to five.
Cochran's campaign said Wednesday that his Republican primary challenger in Mississippi failed to report a potential crime to authorities after learning someone briefly posted an online video with an unauthorized photo of Cochran's bedridden wife, Rose, in a nursing home.
The challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, said he had nothing to do with the video and won't engage the Cochran campaign in an "absurd witch hunt."
Authorities say Kelly photographed 72-year-old Rose Cochran without permission on Easter Sunday, in the nursing home where she's lived the past 13 years with dementia.
The Cochran family says she has lost the ability to speak and is receiving hospice care.
Thad Cochran, 76, a former Senate Appropriations committee chairman, and McDaniel, 41, a candidate who is backed by the tea party, compete in a June 3 primary for the U.S. Senate seat to which Cochran was elected in 1978 after six years in the House. McDaniel was elected to the state Senate in 2007.
Since Kelly's arrest, the Cochran and McDaniel campaigns have argued about who knew about the online video and what they did or didn't do about it.
In a radio interview Tuesday with SuperTalk Mississippi, McDaniel said his campaign had nothing to do with the video and if anyone had photographed his wife or mother in a nursing home, he would have filed charges the same day. He also questioned why the Cochran campaign waited two weeks before the primary to give information to police.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Cochran campaign spokesman Jordan Russell said the Cochran camp learned about the video shortly after it was posted April 26 because they received text alerts or calls. He said Cochran hired an attorney, who investigated and gave information to police in Madison last Thursday.
Russell said every time McDaniel or his campaign staffers answer questions about the video, "a new version of what should be a very simple story comes out."
McDaniel on Wednesday released an open letter to Cochran, saying that in the beginning of the campaign, "I respected you as a man of honor." McDaniel said he's reconsidering that because he believes the Cochran campaign has slandered him by trying to connect him to Kelly.
"To date, you have refused to come home to Mississippi and debate," McDaniel wrote. "Until then, I will not engage either your campaign or the liberal media in their absurd witch hunt."
Kelly has a blog called Constitutional Clayton, which includes a post that says: "When it comes to Republicans with a bad voting record, you can't get any worse than Thad Cochran."
Prosecutors are expected to argue they have enough evidence to turn Kelly's case over to a grand jury to consider indictment.
Kevin Camp, Kelly's attorney, said his client is cooperating with investigators.
Kelly is currently in the Madison County jail under $100,000 bond. Camp said he will ask the court to reduce that so his client can get out of jail.