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Mayfield family appeal won’t be...

Mayfield family appeal won’t be heard by U.S. Supreme Court

By: Frank Corder - February 21, 2024

FILE - In this May 22, 2014 photograph, Mark Mayfield, right, a member of the board of the Central Mississippi Tea Party, and attorney John Reeves, left, listen as Mayfield's attorney Merrida Coxwell, center, responds to questions from city Judge Dale Danks in Madison, Miss., city court, during an initial court appearance. Mayfield, a tea party official charged with conspiring to take photos of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran's wife inside a nursing home, apparently committed suicide Friday, June 27, 2014, police said, days after Cochran won a nasty Republican primary. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

  • The case dates back to the contentious 2014 U.S. Senate race between then-U.S. Senator Thad Cochran and State Senator Chris McDaniel.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from the family of Mark Mayfield, the Mississippi attorney who ended his own life after being arrested for his alleged involvement in the 2014 incident where former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran’s wife was photographed in a nursing home.

Mayfield, who committed suicide in June 2014, was charged with conspiracy to exploit a vulnerable adult after allegedly providing information to supporters of then-State Senator Chris McDaniel’s campaign to unseat Cochran which allowed them access to the nursing home. Mayfield’s mother was a resident in the same facility.

Clayton Kelly and John Mary were also charged in the incident. Both pleaded guilty to conspiracy. Another alleged conspirator – Richard Sager – entered a pre-trial diversion program.

The photographs were meant to discredit Cochran, accusing the state’s senior statesman of having an improper relationship with an assistant while his wife lay bedridden at St. Catherine’s Village in Madison. Cochran denied the accusations ahead of his re-election win in November 2014. His wife, Rose, died just weeks later. Cochran would marry the longtime aid in May 2015, serving three more years in the U.S. Senate. He resigned the seat he held for 40 years in 2018 amid declining health. Senator Cochran died in 2019.

McDaniel, who pushed Cochran to a runoff in the 2014 Republican primary, denied involvement in the operation, condemning the actions, repeatedly saying it was not authorized by him or his senatorial campaign. However, the incident, along with another situation where supporters of McDaniel were found locked inside the Hinds County Courthouse on election night as well as a contentious and drawn-out election challenge, plagued the Jones County lawmaker’s future campaign efforts when he ran for U.S. Senate again in 2018 and then for Lt. Governor in 2023.

Mayfield’s family sued the City of Madison and Mayor Mary Hawkins-Butler, among others, in 2017, claiming that the arrest of Mayfield was made “in coordination with municipal policy makers who were making statements indicating their intent to use the arrest as retaliation against the political activity.” The family contended that Mayfield’s rights to constitutionally protected free speech were violated.

The family, in its court filings, claims that Mayor Hawkins-Butler made statements, including statements to an assistant district attorney, regarding her intent to retaliate against those accused of making the political video against her friend.

U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves dismissed the lawsuit in 2021, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Reeves’ decision in July 2023. A rehearing was denied in August.

The family then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in November 2023.

Attorneys for Mayfield’s family, Dorsey Carson and Steve Thornton, claim in the Supreme Court petition that the Madison Police Department (MPD) lacked sufficient evidence to establish probable cause for the Mayfield search warrants, calling them defective.

“Even though MPD had evidence of Mayfield’s political intent and, importantly, his lack of criminal intent, Mayfield was arrested with the defective warrants,” the filing states.

After his arrest, the attorneys wrote that Mayfield began to lose sleep and became depressed.

“Immediately following Mayfield’s arrest, the City of Madison issued a press release to the media containing Mayfield’s mugshot. Mayfield’s arrest quickly made national news. Mayfield was escorted shackled into a media-packed courtroom where he received a $250,000 bond,” the petition states. “Mayfield’s mugshot was then incorporated into an effective statewide television campaign advertisement for Sen. Cochran.”

The filing says Mayfield sought professional help and was prescribed a number of medications for sleep, depression, and anxiety. Mayfield’s wife experienced similar symptoms and was also prescribed medication. Just days after the Primary election, Mayfield was found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound – before a grand jury could consider an indictment.

Counsel for the City of Madison and Mayor Hawkins-Butler responded to the family’s appeal filing, saying the case was about an “appalling act,” not the men’s political beliefs. They contend that the City and its officers “aggressively pursue[d] those who committed a potential invasion of
the privacy of an incapacitated adult,” citing the district court and the court of appeals that stated: “The evidence doesn’t show that the City carried out the investigation, arrest, search, or prosecution because of Mayfield’s political views, which the Plaintiffs needed to show to succeed.”

About the Author(s)
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Frank Corder

Frank Corder is a native of Pascagoula. For nearly two decades, he has reported and offered analysis on government, public policy, business and matters of faith. Frank’s interviews, articles, and columns have been shared throughout Mississippi as well as in national publications. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, providing insight and commentary on the inner workings of the Magnolia State. Frank has served his community in both elected and appointed public office, hosted his own local radio and television programs, and managed private businesses all while being an engaged husband and father. Email Frank: