HAMILTON - The Marion County Grand Jury handed down an indictment for capital murder against Christopher Andrew Cochran at the Marion County Courthouse in Hamilton on Wednesday, Jan 16.
Cochran was charged with the crime after he allegedly shot and killed Lorenzo Garcia during a child custody exchange behind the Hamilton Police Department on Dec. 25, 2018.
25th Judicial Circuit District Attorney Scott Slatton said Cochran will be arraigned and informed of the charges the grand jury handed down.
“At that point the case will move forward through the process for a pre-trial date and ultimately a trial date, at some point,” Slatton said.
The capital murder case against Cochran went to the Marion County Grand Jury after Circuit Court Judge Daryl Burt of the 25th Judicial District ruled the State of Alabama provided sufficient evidence for Cochran to be tried.
Burt ruled to move the case forward after a preliminary hearing at the Marion County Courthouse in Hamilton on Monday, Jan. 14.
Prosecutors are trying Cochran under Hollie’s Law, a recently-enacted law that doubles the penalty for convictions of first-, second- and third-degree domestic violence if a child under the age of 14 witnesses the act.
The law also includes a capital offense of murder if the death is witnessed by a child under 14, and the victim is the parent or legal guardian of the child. In Alabama, capital murder convictions carry the death penalty.
At the hearing, Slatton called Hamilton Police Department Investigator Sgt. Scotty Chandler, the lead investigator on the case, to the stand to present evidence regarding the shooting.
Chandler, questioned by deputy district attorney Rachel Smith, gave his own eyewitness account of what he saw at the scene when he arrived and began his investigation. Chandler also described video evidence recorded by two HPD surveillance cameras.
Chandler said he arrived on the scene shortly after being dispatched through the 911 call center at around 2 p.m that day. Chandler said he observed Garcia laying face-down in a pool of blood with two gunshot wounds to the head. Cochran was laying down on the ground surrendering when he arrived and a semi-automatic Glock .45 pistol along with four spent shell casings were located at the scene, Chandler said.
Chandler said the incident occurred during a custody exchange between Garcia and Sami Jo Norgard, the mother of Garcia’s two children, a boy, 3, and a girl, 4. Garcia was returning the children to Norgard’s custody after a Christmas Day visit.
Cochran, Norgard’s boyfriend, arrived with Norgard as a passenger in her car, Chandler said.
Chandler relied on Hamilton PD security camera footage to describe to the court how the incident unfolded.
Chandler said the surveillance video footage shows two cars pull into the back parking lot at the Hamilton Police Department. The two children exit Garcia’s vehicle and run over to Norgard’s vehicle. Norgard places the boy inside her vehicle and Norgard, along with the little girl, walk behind the vehicle back toward Cochran and Garcia, who are involved in a verbal dispute. The video, Chandler said, shows Garcia approach Cochran. Norgard walked between the two men and Cochran pulled a handgun from a holster behind his back. Cochran pointed the gun at Garcia who was, at that point, standing about 11 feet from Cochran, Chandler said. Garcia took a defensive position, low to the ground with his hands up, Chandler said.
Cochran fired twice at Garcia and both shots missed. Cochran advanced toward Garcia, who was still crouching, and Cochran grabbed Garcia by the collar and shot him behind the left ear. Chandler said the video shows Garcia fall to the ground. Cochran fired another round into the right side of Garcia’s head as Garcia lay on the ground, Chandler said.
“Where was the little girl when the shooting was taking place?” Smith asked Chandler.
“Behind Mr. Garcia, as rounds were being fired,” Chandler said.
“Did she say who got shot?” Smith asked.
“Yes,” Chandler said. “’Andrew just shot daddy,’ she said.”
Smith had no further questions for Chandler.
Cochran’s court-appointed defense attorney, Jim Standridge of Tuscaloosa, then requested an opportunity to view the video evidence.
Burt granted the request and defense attorneys Jared Arnold and Standridge, along with Cochran, Slatton, Smith and Burt, viewed the video on a laptop at the witness stand as Chandler narrated the video. The video has no audio, but Chandler said that witnesses stated Cochran and Garcia became involved in the verbal dispute regarding a coat that belonged to one of the children.
Standridge said in a phone interview on Jan. 16 that the case is still in the early stages and all the evidence has not been collected.
Standridge said his client has a defense based on the “Stand Your Ground” law. Under Alabama law a person may use physical force to defend himself or another person from what they reasonably believe to be unlawful physical force from another person. “If you are acting in self-defense,” Standridge said, “you are immune from prosecution, if you fall within the language of that statute.
“The events in the video leave no doubt that Mr. Cochran was defending himself. The video speaks for itself,” Standridge said.
Before the proceedings got underway, Burt said he was unfamiliar with Cochran’s attorney, Jared Arnold of St. Clair County.
“This court has a duty to ensure that Mr. Cochran has sound legal counsel,” Burt said before asking Arnold about his background.
Burt asked Arnold how many capital murder cases he had defended or had participated in as an assistant. Arnold said he hasn’t defended any capital murder cases himself but had only been a part of one capital murder case that resulted in a hung jury. Arnold said he had not defended any felony cases.
Arnold told Burt that information about his firm, Arnold Law Offices, could be found at jaredbarnoldllc.com. The website states that the firm is “the leader in bankruptcy law” in Pell City and Talladega.
Burt said that guidelines adopted by the Alabama Bar Association in 2005 entitles a defendant to qualified legal defense.
“You,” Burt said, speaking directly to Cochran, “are entitled to sound legal defense. I gave you my word that I was going to make sure that would happen. Do you remember?” Burt asked Cochran.
“Yes, sir,” Cochran responded.
Burt asked Standridge, seated at the defense table, to introduce himself to the court and give his background. Standridge said he has been practicing law for 40 years and has defended over 100 death penalty cases.
“Mr. Cochran,” Burt said, “that is why I appoint Mr. Standridge. I’m going to designate him as lead counsel in your defense,” Burt said.
At the preliminary hearing, Standridge asked the court to release Cochran on bond. Burt denied the request and Cochran is being held in the Marion County Jail in Hamilton without bond.
(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.