Mississippi’s bizarre political scandal takes a tragic turn

Mark Mayfield, an attorney and tea party activist in Mississippi who was arrested in connection with a scheme to take illicit photographs of Sen. Thad Cochran's infirm wife, has died of an apparent suicide, according to The Associated Press.

The incident shook up the Republican Senate primary race shortly before the June 3 election. Mayfield was arrested on May 22 along with Richard Sager and John Mary for their alleged involvement in a plan carried out by a supporter of Cochran's primary opponent, Chris McDaniel.

Image from WAPT newscast.
Mayfield enters court. (Image from WAPT newscast.)

On Easter, that supporter, Clayton Thomas Kelly, went to the St. Catherine's Village nursing home with the intention of finding and photographing Rose Cochran. The senator's wife has been at the long-term care facility for over a decade and suffers from dementia. Kelly entered the facility as a visitor and took photos of Cochran and her room. Returning home, he included the images in a video that he posted to his blog on April 26.

Both campaigns quickly learned about the video. McDaniel's team requested through intermediaries that Kelly take it down. Cochran's campaign asked the police to get involved on May 15. Kelly was arrested the next day for "exploiting a vulnerable adult."

Mayfield, Sager, and Mary were arrested soon after on charges of conspiracy. Mayfield's bond was set at $250,000. Kelly's attorney told the media that his client didn't recognize the other three men when they joined him in his holding cell. Mayfield's attorney had harsh words for the court. "It all shocks me," he said. "I don't understand the charge. It makes no sense whatsoever, just like a $250,000 bond makes no sense for someone who is literally a pillar in the community."

It's not clear how authorities believe Mayfield was involved in Kelly's actions. At the time of Kelly's arrest, his wife Tara told reporters that he had been given tips about Rose Cochran's location by "someone on the Internet." "I wish I could tell you the names of these people on the Internet that gave my husband this information," Tara Kelly told the Clarion-Ledger. "But I don't know and can only hope it comes out who they are."

A statement released by the Ridgeland, Mississippi police department and provided to the Post says that they responded to a call from Mayfield's wife shortly after 9 a.m. Friday. She directed police to a storage room, where they found Mayfield dead of a single gunshot wound to the head. There was no indication of foul play. The Associated Press reports that a suicide note was found near his body.

Mayfield was a real estate lawyer in his community and was the vice president of the Central Mississippi Tea Party at the time of his arrest.

Update: Keith Plunkett, who McDaniel spokesman Noel Fritsch confirmed to the Post was associated with the campaign, appeared to blame Mayfield's death on McDaniel's political opponents in a tweet. It has since been deleted.

plunkett

In response McDaniel offered this statement to the Post:

Regardless of recent allegations made against his character, Mark Mayfield was a fine Christian man who was always respectful and kind. He was one of the most polite and humble men I've ever met in politics. He was a loving husband, father, a pillar of his community, and he will be missed. We are saddened by his loss, and we send our thoughts and prayers to his wife, his family and friends.

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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