By Paul Steinhauser
Mark Mayfield, a tea party leader, who was one of three men charged with conspiring to photograph Sen. Thad Cochran’s wife in her nursing home, was found dead on Friday from a gunshot wound in a possible suicide, police said.
“We found him at his home with a gunshot wound in his head. We found him deceased there. We are working this currently as a suicide because all of the indications, it appears to be suicide, but we still got some things to look into,” Ridgeland, Mississippi, Police Chief Jimmy Houston told CNN.
“He left a suicide note and we are verifying its validity,” Houston said.
Last month’s incident of alleged political “dirty tricks” escalated tensions in what was already an ugly Republican primary fight between Cochran and conservative state Sen. Chris McDaniel.
Cochran’s wife in nursing home for years
Mayfield was charged a week after a conservative blogger and supporter of McDaniel’s primary challenge was arrested for obtaining an image of Cochran’s wife, who suffers from dementia and has lived in a nursing home for 14 years.
McDaniel’s campaign denied any connection to the incident.
Mayfield’s attorney, Merrida Coxwell, said in a statement e-mailed to CNN that he was a client “but more importantly, he was a friend for almost 34 years. My heart is completely broken. This is beyond tragic and the people of this community and state have lost a good man and citizen.”
In a phone call with CNN, Coxwell added, “It’s not important to me how it happened. It happened today. Mark’s wife called and texted me that Mark was deceased.”
Coxwell also said Mayfield is survived by his wife and two children.
McDaniel narrowly edged out Cochran in the June 3 primary, but with neither man cracking 50%, the contest moved to Tuesday’s runoff, which Cochran won by fewer than 7,000 votes.
Cochran’s victory was aided by votes from African-American Democrats, who were actively courted during the runoff campaign by pro-Cochran forces.
According to Mississippi law, voters are not required to register with a political party, and anyone who doesn’t vote in a primary election can cast a ballot in either party’s runoff.
McDaniel repeated his vow to use every legal maneuver available to fight the runoff results.