A tea party official accused of being involved in taking photos of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran’s wife in a nursing home was found dead in an apparent suicide at his home, days after the senator won an especially venomous Mississippi Republican primary, police said.
Mark Mayfield, 57, was found Friday morning with a single gunshot to his head, according to Lt. John R. Neal of the Ridgeland, Miss., Police Department. Police were responding to a report from Mayfield’s wife that her husband had just shot himself. There was no indication of foul play, Neal said in a statement. The death is under investigation.
Gov. Phil Bryant, a fellow Republican, expressed his condolences to the Mayfield family.
“Deborah and I are saddened to hear of the loss of Mark Mayfield. He was a longtime friend, and he will be missed. Our prayers go out to his family in this tragic moment.”
Mayfield, an attorney who lived in Ridgeland, a suburb north of the state capital, Jackson, had been implicated in a bizarre campaign episode that became a focal point of the bitter race between incumbent Cochran and his tea party challenger, Chris McDaniel.
A blogger who supported McDaniel was arrested on suspicion of entering the nursing home of the senator’s ailing wife, Rose, and taking a photograph of her without her permission. Rose Cochran has been in a nursing home since 2001 with dementia. The Cochran family has said she has lost the ability to speak and is receiving hospice care.
The photo was briefly posted online and four people, including Mayfield, were arrested. Mayfield was a leader in local tea party circles and the Republican Party and was known by many political operatives in the state.
“Usually when somebody dies you try to find something nice to say, but it isn’t hard with somebody like Mark,” Grant Sowell, leader of the Tupelo Tea Party, told the Los Angeles Times. “Think of the five people you know who have the best qualities all rolled into one and that guy is Mark Mayfield. You take that guy and he has his life ruined by some alleged scandal. I don’t know what his role was, but in the worst case, it was maybe a misdemeanor and they treated him like a rapist and a murderer.
“He was well-respected in the community and his family and even the governor was a friend,” Sowell said. “Then his name is drugged through the mud. He was a great guy, a smart guy who encouraged people. He didn’t have to die hard.
“This is an election, but an election shouldn’t cost a life,” Sowell said. “It just breaks my heart.”
The McDaniel campaign strongly disavowed the incident, but it became a centerpiece of the campaign that ended Tuesday with Cochran’s narrow victory. Television ads supporting the senator said the incident raised questions about McDaniel’s character.
McDaniel has refused to concede the race and is considering options for challenging the votes of Democrats, including African Americans, who were courted by the Cochran team in an unorthodox strategy to bolster turnout for the runoff.
According to police, a large-caliber revolver was found at the scene.
“The death is classified as a death-investigation-pending, due to awaiting an autopsy to be performed at an undetermined time,” police said. “Initial investigation at the scene by investigators with the Ridgeland Police Department did not reveal any indication of foul play and the death is currently under investigation.”