Clayton Kelly
Clayton Kelly
MADISON - The obscure blogger who ignited a flurry of national interest in the state's U.S. Senate GOP primary after allegedly breaking into St. Catherine's Village and taking a picture of Rose Cochran, the infirmed wife of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, and posting the image on the internet is scheduled to appear here today (Thursday) in municipal court on multiple felony charges.

The blogger, Clayton Kelly, 28, of Pearl, was arrested Friday by Madison Police and charged with exploitation of a vulnerable adult. Police on Wednesday said they're still awaiting Kelly's cell phone records and have reason to believe others could be involved in a conspiracy.

Cochran is battling to keep his seat for a seventh term in a Republican primary race with tea party challenger Chris McDaniel. Rose Cochran, 72, has battled dementia for more than 15 years and has been a resident of St. Catherine's Village since 2000.

The photograph, allegedly taken on April 20, appeared in a pro-McDaniel video Kelly producted on his blog on April 26. Although the video was removed within a couple of hours, its existence became known quickly among journalists and political insiders.

Madison police say electronic devices seized from Kelly are being examined for e-mail correspondence and contacts.

"It's still an ongoing investigation," said Madison Assistant Chief Robert Sanders.

Cochran's campaign explained the three-week delay contacting police by saying they conducted their own investigations. Initially, the campaign did an investigation and made the decision to alert Cochran.

Sen. Cochran made a decision to retain attorney Don Clark, managing partner of the Butler Snow law firm, and the lawyers did their own investigation.

A decision was then made to pursue criminal charges against Kelly and the evidence was turned over to the Madison police last Thursday.

Since the arrest, wild accusations have flown from both sides with several bizarre twists and turns.

The McDaniel campaign was forced over the weekend to clarify when they learned of the Cochran break-in, and it wasn't long before the McDaniel camp was accusing Cochran of using his wife's illness to gain the sympathy vote.

A voicemail left for a Cochran staffer by McDaniel's campaign manger before the news broke contradicted McDaniel's initial statement about what he knew, causing the Cochran people to claim the McDaniel camp was aware of the break-in before it was public, which they promptly denied.

Kelly's family emerged Monday to say the blogger was a political pawn, caught in a vicious fight between Cochran and McDaniel.

"I think he went about it in the wrong way, and I think he realizes that now," Kelly's lawyer Kevin Camp told reporters Tuesday.

Camp did not return repeated calls to his office for additional comment by press time.

Another photo surfaced Monday afternoon of McDaniel and Kelly posing for a picture together at a campaign stop in Flowood, but McDaniel maintains he doesn't know Kelly and the campaign had no part in the video.

When pressed on a talk radio program Tuesday morning, McDaniel again denied knowledge of Kelly's actions and accused the media and the Cochran campaign of conspiring to derail his campaign.

Kelly's wife Tara told The Clarion-Ledger her husband believed the story was the "big scoop" he needed to get more notoriety for his blog.

"He was contacted by some anonymous people," Tara Kelly said in the video. "I don't know their names or Facebook handle or whatever ... They wanted him to show that she was in bed while (Cochran) was out taking these trips and having all this fun. For some reason, Clayton went along with it. They are the ones who told him she was at St. Catherine's Village. I think they may have even given him a room number.

"He put together the video...and within an hour and a half, he received either a phone call or a Facebook message from someone saying 'Hey, the big man says to take it down.' The big man being Chris McDaniel. I'm not sure who (sent that message). I'm not sure if they actually were in (McDaniel's) camp, but Clayton took it down immediately after that. I don't know if he's being used in this, I just don't know."

Madison County District Attorney Michael Guest said Tuesday that his office has issued subpoenas for cell phone records and warrants to search "various electronic items" of Kelly's for information that could lead to further arrests.

"Based on what his wife said, he had gotten information about where (Rose Cochran) was and that he had been contacted about how to get in there and photograph her," Guest said. "Via email or social media or by phone."

Guest said they have also charged Kelly with photographing an individual in a place where they would have an expectation of privacy - another felony charge that carries up to five years in prison.

"We thought, based on what we knew about the case, that would be an appropriate charge," he said.

As of Wednesday, Kelly's cell phone carrier, Verizon, had yet to send over the subpoenaed records, officials said.

Officials have yet to release how Kelly managed to gain access to the secure living place.

Andy North, director of marketing and communications for St. Dominic's hospital, which owns St. Catherine's Village, said due to an ongoing investigation there is no comment related to security details in the case.

"Vehicles entering St. Catherine's Village come through a gated checkpoint," he did note. "Visitors are required to check in."

Cochran's adult children said Monday they were shocked someone apparently tried to use their mother's debilitating dementia for political purposes as their father seeks re-election in Mississippi.

In a statement from the Cochran campaign, Clayton and Kate Cochran said their mother has lived in a Madison St. Catherine's Village nursing home for 13 years.

"It is amazing and humbling to see how devoted our dad has been as mother has progressed from early dementia, to complete loss of language to her current state of hospice care,' they said. "He is a model of understanding for those who are losing their loved ones in this way. We are shocked by someone trying to use our mother's illness for political purposes."

Cochran, 76, was elected to the Senate in 1978 after six years in the House. He is a former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

"I have been fortunate to have a wonderful family, and like so many families, we are deeply affected by my wife's serious, long-term illness, that we consider to be a very private family matter," Cochran said in a statement Saturday. "We will continue doing everything we can to protect my wife's safety and security."

McDaniel, 41, a state senator, called the photo "reprehensible."

"I've reached out to Senator Cochran directly to express my abhorrence for the reprehensible actions of this individual,' McDaniel said in a statement Saturday. "This criminal act is deeply offensive and my team and I categorically reject such appalling behavior."

By Wednesday, McDaniel had issued an open letter to Cochran deploring his refusal to debate.

"Senator, if you are inclined to cast aspersions on my honor and integrity then I call upon you to do it to my face in a debate forum. (We are both grown men capable of engaging in a spirited debate about our differences. There is no need to hide behind campaign surrogates.)" he said.

Kelly's Facebook page includes one photo of Kelly with McDaniel at a campaign meet-and-greet event and another photo of a McDaniel campaign sign. Kelly has a blog called Constitutional Clayton (http://bit.ly/1sEK0iz), which includes a post that says: "When it comes to Republicans with a bad voting record, you can't get any worse than Thad Cochran. Thad should represent the 'Controlled Opposition' Wing of the Republicans more than John McCain or Lindsey Graham."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.