Rejecting both his attorney’s request for home confinement and prosecutors’ suggestion he serve eight months in prison, a U.S. district judge on Wednesday sentenced an ex-captain for the Murray County Sheriff’s Office to a year and a day in prison, plus a year on probation, for obstructing an investigation.
Michael Henderson pleaded guilty to obstruction several months ago for lying during a Georgia Bureau of Investigation inquiry two summers ago. The inquiry eventually found that Henderson, after a tip from now ex-Murray County chief magistrate Bryant Cochran, told ex-deputy Josh Greeson to be on the lookout for the car of a woman who had filed a complaint against Cochran, after one of Cochran’s tenants planted meth on her car. Through his attorney, Cochran has denied wrongdoing except for pre-signing a handful of warrants shortly before he resigned.
Angela Garmley had accused Cochran of sexually soliciting her when she came to him for a warrant. She and a friend who was driving her home were jailed on drug charges but the charges were dismissed days later.
Clifford Joyce of Dalton pleaded guilty earlier this year to planting the drugs on Garmley’s vehicle. Authorities have said Henderson wasn’t involved in planting the drugs, but he lied to investigators looking into Garmley’s arrest when he said no one had tipped him off about the vehicle carrying drugs. They said he also encouraged Greeson to break his oath of office by lying, too.
Both Greeson and Henderson have admitted they lied to investigators about anyone asking them to be on the lookout for Garmley or her vehicle. Greeson said he lied because Henderson told him to, but he later felt guilty about it and came back to tell the truth. Greeson was sentenced to 10 months in prison plus a year on probation.
In court Wednesday, Henderson apologized for his actions.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Davis said prosecutors recommended a lighter sentence for Henderson because he pleaded guilty to his part in the scheme before he was indicted. Judge Harold L. Murphy also heard testimony suggesting Henderson is an otherwise responsible person and a good family man and that, as his attorney Billy Sparks requested, he should be allowed to serve an eight-month sentence in home confinement.
Murphy said he couldn’t agree to either request and uphold his duty to his office. Henderson could have received up to 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine, but Murphy said sentencing guidelines the court tries to follow suggested a sentence of between eight and 14 months.
Calling it a “sad day” and saying he imposed the sentence with “regret,” Murphy said Henderson’s actions created a public distrust of Murray County law enforcement. Murphy also called Henderson to task for his part in Greeson lying.
“So he has not only the weight of his own conduct, he has the weight of the conduct of others in his offense,” Murphy said. “As a court, I cannot responsibly impose a sentence that does not hurt to some extent ... When you really think about it, a sentence of 12 months for an individual who has struck the very basic tenets of law enforcement, the court has imposed a very modest sentence.”
Prosecutors are remaining tight-lipped about the extent of Cochran’s involvement in the scheme except to say the investigation is ongoing.