A Dalton man pleaded guilty in federal court in Rome on Friday to planting drugs on the car of a Murray County woman who had accused a magistrate judge of making sexual overtures in exchange for a favorable ruling on a case.
Clifford J. Joyce, 27, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Harold L. Murphy. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 23 at 1:30 p.m. Joyce could receive a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.
Joyce admitted planting meth on the car of Angela Garmley, who had filed a complaint against then-chief magistrate judge Bryant Cochran accusing him of soliciting her sexually when she tried to obtain warrants against individuals she said attacked her. The U.S. attorney’s office said in a press release that Joyce hid a metal tin under the tire well of the car that contained five small packets of meth.
Garmley was charged Aug. 14, 2012, by the Murray County Sheriff’s Office with possession of meth after an officer discovered the tin during a traffic stop. A man who was driving Garmley home in her car at the time was also charged with possession of meth. But District Attorney Bert Poston dropped those charges less than two weeks later, citing information developed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Garmley’s attorney McCracken Poston (no relation to the district attorney) said on Friday his client felt vindicated.
“Although her charges were dropped, this was the first official declaration that someone planted those drugs,” Poston said.
Federal prosecutors say Joyce, who was at that time a tenant of Cochran’s, and others conspired to plant drugs on Garmley in an attempt to discredit her. McCracken Poston said Cochran was part of that effort to discredit Garmley.
“C.J. was just the low man on the totem pole,” he said.
Joyce’s attorney could not be reached for comment, and no one answered the phone Friday evening at a number listed for a Clifford J. Joyce in Dalton.
Cochran’s attorney, Page Pate, said on Friday that Cochran had no role in planting drugs on Garmley’s car.
“I can tell you without equivocation that Judge Cochran had no knowledge of what he (Joyce) did and did not direct him to do that and had no involvement whatsoever,” Pate said.
Joyce is the third person to plead guilty in federal court in relation to the Garmley case.
Joshua Lamar Greeson, the Murray County deputy who stopped Garmley’s car, pleaded guilty in April to false statements. He had been fired in 2012 for lying during the investigation.
Greeson’s supervisor, former sheriff’s captain Michael Henderson, pleaded guilty in March to obstruction. Henderson, a cousin of Cochran’s, had also been fired in 2012 for lying to investigators.
Both Greeson and Henderson are awaiting sentencing.
Cochran resigned from office the day before Garmley was arrested. He admitted he had pre-signed 12 warrants but denied issuing them. He denied Garmley’s claims that he had solicited her.