On Christmas Day, Tuesday, Dec. 25, the City of Hamilton suffered its second downtown shooting event in just the last three years, leaving a father dead in the presence of his two children during a custody exchange gone wrong.
Hamilton’s last shooting happened in just February 2016, when Jimmy Dale Cooper, Hamilton, allegedly shot and killed Linda Cole and Donnie Miller in separate shooting incidents in downtown Hamilton.
The news of the Christmas Day shooting came in the wake of an update in Cooper’s case, which, as of Dec. 3, has been held indefinitely in gridlock due to lengthy delays in the state’s mental health process.
With the tragic circumstance of these murders and with no trial date in sight in Cooper’s case, this second murder weighs heavily on us.
Christopher Andrew Cochran, 29, Hamilton, is being charged with capital murder for allegedly shooting and killing Lorenzo Jose “Joe” Mercado Garcia, 48, Hamilton, the father of his girlfriend’s children.
Reportedly, Cochran shot and killed Garcia at the Hamilton Police Department on Christmas Day afternoon while the two parties were exchanging custody of Garcia’s and Sami Jo Norgard’s children, ages 3 and 4. Investigators have said that Garcia and Cochran engaged in a verbal altercation, whereupon Garcia began approaching Cochran. It was then that Cochran drew a weapon and shot Garcia four times.
Upon his arrest, Cochran was charged initially with murder; however, following a bond hearing on Thursday afternoon, Dec. 27, Cochran’s charges were upgraded to capital murder without bail based on Hollie’s Law.
House District 1 Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Green Hill, who sponsored the bill in the Legislature said that, to his knowledge, Cochran would be the first in the state to be prosecuted under the law.
Hollie’s Law is named in honor of Hollie Newbury, who was murdered by her ex-common-law husband, Christopher Rich, in front of her two small children in Lauderdale County in 2009. The law makes the murder of a parent or guardian in front of a child younger than 14 years old a capital offense. Capital offenses are punishable by death.
The circumstances surrounding Newbury’s murder are eerily similar to Garcia’s. Newbury, 24, was murdered only days before Christmas on Dec. 21, 2009. She was shot by Rich once with a shotgun while she sat in her car with her two children, one 5 years old, the other just 15 months old. She had just picked up her children from Rich during a custody exchange.
According to the Lauderdale County District Attorney’s office, the only reason Rich was charged with capital murder was that he killed Newbury while robbing her car. According to press reports, Rich pleaded guilty to his capital murder charge in 2011 and is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly said that one of the aims of the law’s passage was “putting more teeth into the punishment for the crime.”
Ultimately, however, Connolly told the TimesDaily that the intended outcome of the law was to deter such crimes from happening at all. “The success story is if this law doesn’t have to be used,” Connolly said.
After a three-year-long effort by Newbury’s family, the law was signed into effect by Gov. Kay Ivey just a little more than two months ago on Oct. 31, 2018.
Garcia’s murder remains an ongoing investigation and Cochran is being held in the Marion County Jail in Hamilton without bond. A pending autopsy report by the State Bureau of Investigation and other details will no doubt bring to light more details of the tragic event, including why Cochran decided to pull his trigger.
We are thankful for our local law enforcement officers and first responders for their quick response in this incident. Our hearts also hurt for the children and the families involved in this incident and we pray that they would be comforted. We also hope and pray that truth and justice, however they appear, would be appropriately and timely delivered in regards to this incident.
(When a defendant is charged with a crime, the charge is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.)
See complete story in the Journal Record.