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Kidnapping suspect walked away from recovery home after church
Journey to Sober Living cited for zoning violation
Bradley Cochran
Bradley Cochran

Statesboro code enforcement issued a zoning violation citation Wednesday to a “recovery home” where a suspect involved in a recent kidnapping had been living.

Bradley Justin Cochran, who reportedly kidnapped three women Sunday, sexually assaulted two of them and burned their car before hanging himself, had just hours before walked away from Journey to Sober Living, an addiction recovery home on Carmel Drive in Statesboro.

While Journey to Sober Living had no responsibility in the kidnapping and subsequent events, the fact that Cochran — facing two pending court hearings on child molestation and methamphetamine dealing charges — was living there drew attention to the facility this week.

Statesboro Code Enforcement Officer Scott Brunson confirmed Thursday he issued the citation to Journey to Sober Living (JSL) owners J. W. “Cliff” Williams and Robert Wheeler Wednesday afternoon.

Statesboro City Planner Justin Williams said Thursday the case in still being investigated. JSL had a county business license, but had not acquired one through the city, and there were zoning issues involving the JSL house being a multi-resident (non-family) home in an area where they would need a “conditional use” variance to continue operating.

Williams said Thursday he is willing to work with the city regarding the zoning issues but is concerned about how the attention drawn to JSL could harm the recovery home’s goals.

 

“Not a rehab”

Journey to Sober Living is “not a rehab or treatment center,” but simply a “recovery home” where addicts can “live in a sober environment” and learn how to enter back into society, Williams said.

JSL’s Facebook page states it is a “business service — addiction service” that was formed in August 2017. “Our goal is to provide a structured environment where addicts can begin the journey to sober living,” states a mission statement on the page.

According to an indictment for Cochran, a copy of which the Statesboro Herald obtained from the Pickens County Clerk of Court, Cochran was bonded out of jail for charges of child molestation and methamphetamine possession (with intent to distribute), having posted a $30,000 bond in 2017.

He was to be released from the Pickens County Adult Detention Center only when “there is a bed available for immediate use at Journey to Sober Living in Statesboro, Ga.” An amendment to the indictment stated there was a bed immediately available at the time.

The indictment did not indicate how the Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Mary Elizabeth Priest learned about or chose JSL as the facility where Cochran would be sent. Priest was not immediately available for comment Thursday.

Williams said he believes his facility may have been found through an online search.

Cochran was given six hours from his release to check in and notify the courts. He was driven to Statesboro by family, the indictment stated. He was ordered to complete the program, and the courts were to be notified 15 days prior to his completion so another bond hearing regarding additional conditions could be held.

But Williams said there was no specific program at JSL and that most of the 19 residents of JSL’s three homes in Statesboro “are voluntary.” He said it was his “understanding” that Cochran was there at the request of the family due to family conflict.

JSL “never communicated with the court and was not aware of a court order” except being told by family that Cochran’s entering into a recovery facility was a condition of his bond.

 

No sign of violence

Williams said Cochran had been with JSL for over a year, working with a local plumbing company and never posing any problems or showing “any signs of violence.”

He said Cochran attended church Sunday, along with other JSL residents, and when they all returned home, he “announced he was leaving. He packed up his stuff and left. He was calm.”

But nine hours later, Cochran used a knife to abduct three young Georgia Southern University students at Food World on Fair Road. He forced them to drive to an ATM, and after one girl escaped from the moving vehicle, he made the other two drive to a remote spot in Candler County, where he sexually assaulted them before they escaped.

He then drove into the city of Metter, where he set the car on fire and then hung himself in the yard of an empty house, police said.

Williams said there had been no background check on Cochran, as it had not been routine, but that from now on, JSL would be more thorough in checking the backgrounds of people seeking to live there.

He said he and Wheeler, as well as the other JSL residents, are appalled by Cochran’s deeds and express sincere sympathy for the women involved, as well as family members of all involved.

“This is abhorrent to us,” he said. “We are good people. It is horrifying that those girls went through what they went through. It is terrible for everyone all around.”

JSL is a place where addicts, trying to recover, can live with affordable rent in a sober environment, Williams said. Residents work, volunteer with the Statesboro Food Bank, Feeding the Boro and the soup kitchen.

“We are trying to help, make a dream come true, give them a chance,” he said.

But the experience with Cochran has shaken them, he admitted.

“We will probably go to the extreme the other way now” in performing background checks on potential residents, he said.

Statesboro City Planning and Development Director Frank Neal said Williams and Wheeler were given information Wednesday on applying for a conditional use variance for all three of their houses, and Williams said they intend to “fully cooperate with the city.”

 

Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.