A timeline of the arrest that’s shaking up the Mississippi Senate primary

This post has been corrected. The arrest of Clayton Thomas Kelly for taking an illicit photo of the wife of Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) has become, like so many other political controversies, a question of who knew what, when. We've done our best to piece together a timeline of the incident.


Chris McDaniel talks to the press on Thursday, May 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

First, an overview. Kelly runs a blog called Constitutional Clayton, and is a supporter of state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who is running a serious challenge to Cochran in the Republican Senate primary.  Included in a  video that Kelly posted in April was at least one still photograph of Cochran's wife, Rose, who suffers from dementia and lives in a nursing home in the state. In an appearance on MSNBC on Tuesday, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour called the posting of the photograph the"sickest most disgusting thing I have ever seen in politics," asking: "How low can you go?" Kelly was arrested on Friday.

Sunday, April 20

Kelly's wife Tara told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger that Clayton visited the St. Catherine's Village nursing home on Easter, gaining access like any other visitor. His attorney, Kevin Camp, told the Associated Press that the photos were taken from outside of Rose Cochran's hospital room during visiting hours. "He didn't do anything that was out of the norms of visitation," Camp said.

Tara also told the Clarion-Ledger that Kelly had been given tips about the alleged affair from "someone on the Internet."

"They gave him information as to where Rose Cochran was staying, as well as other information," Tara Kelly said. "… I wish I could tell you the names of these people on the Internet that gave my husband this information. But I don't know and can only hope it comes out who they are."

In its description of the incident, Breitbart.com reported that Kelly's friends said he was "exuberant" over the photos and "quickly" reworked an existing video to include the images.

Saturday, April 26

The video goes public. Breitbart's Matt Boyle says that the video "spread quickly, was viewed by hundreds of people, and made its way before long to McDaniel operatives."

If it went up on the 26th, as Boyle reports, it made its way to the McDaniel camp very quickly. Boyle obtained a copy of an email from Melanie Sojourner, McDaniel's campaign manager, in which she scrambles to figure out who posted the video in an attempt to get it taken down. The campaign reached out to local Republicans, with the message eventually reaching Kelly, who removed the video.

The Clarion-Ledger quotes Tara Kelly, who offered a slightly different take on the events. Kelly received a call, telling Tara that he was told "the big man himself says take it down," she said. Camp told the paper that Kelly took it down after the video spawned comments about Rose Cochran.

McDaniel's team didn't tell Cochran about the incident. But Jordan Russell, spokesman for the Cochran campaign, told The Hill that the campaign knew about it on the day it was posted. Russell told the Clarion-Ledger that people were emailing him with links to the video. After a few days, the campaign sent the video to its lawyers.

Sunday, May 11

Boyle learned about the video, contacting Kelly over Facebook. Kelly wouldn't share the video, but did send Boyle "a photograph of the sign outside the door to Rose Cochran’s room at St. Catherine’s."

Thursday, May 15

Cochran's lawyer informs the police about the photographs.

Friday, May 16

Kelly is arrested for "exploiting a vulnerable adult."

Saturday, May 17

At 7:30 a.m. central time, according to Boyle, "McDaniel himself 'was notified only briefly of the incident and the need to personally reach out to Sen. Cochran.'" Fifteen minutes later, McDaniel's campaign manager leaves a voicemail message for Cochran's.

The news quickly goes national. The Hill's Alexandra Jaffe confronts McDaniel at a morning event; he appears not to know much about it, saying "I don’t guess I’ve been awake long enough to see what’s happened." Jaffe shows him a photo of himself with Kelly, taken at a voter meet-and-greet earlier in the year. McDaniel doesn't recognize Kelly.

McDaniel later releases two statements on the incident. The first expresses his "abhorrence for the reprehensible actions of this individual." The second indicates more frustration.

The McDaniel campaign found out about the break in when a local political blog posted about it at 11:40 p.m. last night. Senator McDaniel has denounced the break-in and called Senator Cochran to extend his condolences. It is unconscionable for the Cochran campaign and the liberal media to use the act of a sick individual to lob despicable accusations.

The statement appears to distinguish between knowing about the "break in" — that is, Kelly's crime — and knowing about the video itself.

Sunday, May 18

Bond is set at $100,000.

Tuesday, May 20

Police indicate they are considering whether or not more people may have been involved in the incident.

Wednesday, May 21

Kelly is charged with another crime, as the Clarion-Ledger reports — a felony that could result in a five year sentence. It's not clear what the actual charge is, but according to the district attorney, it results from Kelly photographing Rose Cochran in a place where she had "a reasonable expectation of privacy."

Thursday, May 22

Three more people have been arrested, according to the Clarion-Ledger. They include:

  • Mark Mayfield, an attorney and vice chairman of the Mississippi Tea Party
  • Richard Sager, a local teacher. He's charged with conspiracy and tampering with evidence.
  • John Mary, who isn't identified by the paper.

McDaniel released a statement, calling the incident "reprehensible," and saying that "individuals who were involved in this crime should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Correction: The post originally stated that Kelly and his wife went to the nursing home together. 

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He previously wrote for The Wire, the news blog of The Atlantic magazine. He has contributed to The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, The Daily, and the Huffington Post. Philip is based in New York City.
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