Benjamin Cochran

Handcuffs are removed from Benjamin Cochran as he arrives in Athens County Common Pleas Court on Wednesday to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

Benjamin Cochran of The Plains was sentenced Wednesday in Athens County Common Pleas Court to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the death last summer of Chris Meadows.

Meadows, 23, of Darwin Road, Shade, was reported missing last July and his body was found in September in an unmarked grave near Shade. Cochran, 29, is one of five people indicted as a result of the investigation of Meadows’ death.

Cochran had initially been charged with aggravated murder, but that was reduced to involuntary manslaughter as part of a plea agreement. Cochran also pleaded guilty to kidnapping Meadows, and guilty to tampering with evidence and abuse of a corpse, both in connection with the burying of the body.

Prosecutors have said they believe Meadows was strangled with a cord by co-defendant William Milam, 33, of Nelsonville, although a coroner’s verdict listed the cause of death as undetermined. Milam’s case is still pending. The body was in an advanced state of decomposition when it was found.

Ronald Smith, 35, of Shade, also faces charges, and prosecutors have claimed that Smith ordered that Meadows be brought to him, with the death occurring during the kidnapping.

As part of his plea agreement, Cochran is required to continue cooperating with authorities, and prosecutors will oppose any attempts by Cochran to gain early release from prison.

Prior to Judge George McCarthy imposing sentence, a statement was read from Mikki Meadows, mother of the victim, which was made on behalf of the Meadows family.

“All we know is that almost all involved were supposed to be Chris’ friends. We will probably never understand why they took Chris from us,” Nikki Meadows wrote. “What they did was no accident. If it was, why not try to revive him or call for help? Instead they covered it up and threw him away like a piece of trash.”

She wrote about the impact his death has had on the family.

“When they murdered our son, they might as well have killed all of us, because we all just feel dead inside,” she wrote, saying she has severe depression, health and trust issues and panic attacks. She added that her husband’s health has gone downhill and her youngest son has become withdrawn.

“Chris was an awesome big brother, and a great son and my best friend,” she wrote. “He had a very big heart, would help you out no matter what it was or the time of day it was. He’d be there for whoever, whenever.”

She wrote that her son was a competitive motorcycle racer, who at age 15 was ranked number one in the nation and continued winning after that. She said he was heartbroken when he had to stop racing because of the cost, and within a year was “torn to pieces” when his grandfather died. She said her son fell into drugs and trouble with the law.

“He tried his hardest to get out of that lifestyle, and I do believe he was ready to change, but we will never know,” she wrote.

McCarthy asked if Cochran had anything to say, and suggested he address any comments to Meadows’ family members who were in court.

Cochran turned to them and said, “I’m very sorry.”

In accordance with the plea agreement, McCarthy sentenced Cochran to 10 years for involuntary manslaughter, 10 years for kidnapping, one year for abuse of a corpse and 36 months for tampering with evidence, with the sentences to run concurrently.

Last November, 57-year-old James Pascol of Shade, the caretaker at the tree farm where Meadows’ body was found, was sentenced to four years in prison for gross abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence in connection with the burial of the body.

Also last November, 25-year-old Cheyanne Holly of Nelsonville, who authorities have said was Meadows’ girlfriend, pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and was placed on five years of community control. She had been accused of getting rid of her cell phone the day Meadows’ body was found.

srobb@athensmessenger.com; Twitter @SteveRmessenger

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