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Father shot, killed in front of children during Christmas custody exchange

Father shot, killed in front of children during Christmas custody exchange

• Cochran’s charges upgraded to capital murder without bond


Christopher Andrew Cochran

Article contributed by The Journal Record

News Editor

HAMILTON - A Hamilton man is being charged with capital murder after allegedly shooting and killing the father of his girlfriend’s children during a custody exchange on Christmas Day.

Hamilton Police Investigations Supervisor Scotty Chandler told the Journal Record that Christoper Andrew Cochran, 29, Hamilton, was arrested on Christmas Day, Tuesday, Dec. 25, for the slaying of Lorenzo Jose “Joe” Mercado Garcia, 48.

Cochran reportedly shot and killed Garcia during a custody exchange at the Hamilton Police Department’s west-side parking lot while Garcia was dropping off his two children, ages 3 and 4, to be picked up by their mother. The children were still present when the shooting took place. No one else was harmed during the incident.

The Hamilton Police Department office was closed due to the Christmas holidays. However, Chandler said that on-duty patrolmen and Hamilton firemen arrived on the scene only minutes after the shooting. Marion County Sheriff’s Department deputies and Regional Paramedical Services also responded.  

Chandler said that local police arrived finding Cochran surrendering himself. Cochran is being held in the Marion County Jail in Hamilton without bail.

Chandler said that this remains an on-going investigation.

Cochran is an employee of O’Rilley Auto Parts in Hamilton and Garcia was an employee of MotorSportsSuperStore in Hamilton. According to Chandler, neither man had a criminal history.

The shooter was initially charged with murder; however, following a bond hearing on Thursday afternoon, Dec. 27, his charges were upgraded to capital murder without bail based on Hollie’s law, which constitutes the murder of a parent or guardian  as a capital offense if committed in front of a minor younger than 14.

The bill was just signed into effect in November 2018 and is named for Hollie Newbury, who was shot and killed by her ex common-law husband, Christopher Rich, in 2009 while her two young daughters were in the car.

The custody exchange

The official report reads that Cochran accompanied his girlfriend, Sami Jo Norgard, the mother of Garcia’s children, to the Christmas Day transfer.

Garcia arrived for the exchange with a woman, Darla Gibson. Chandler says the two share the same address, but their relationship is uncertain.

According to Chandler, between 1 and 2 p.m., the two parties had pulled their vehicles beside one another in the west parking lot.

While the custody exchange was underway, a verbal altercation began between Cochran and Garcia.

Chandler said that witnesses reported that Garcia  began to advance towards Cochran when Cochran drew a handgun and fired at least four times, striking and killing Garcia.

The investigator said that Garcia’s body is undergoing an autopsy by the Alabama Department of Forensic Science in Florence and local law enforcement officials are waiting on the results before details are available.

Chandler said that Garcia’s distance from Cochran at the time he was shot is still a matter of investigation.

Dispatch was alerted to the shooting at approximately 1:52 p.m. and local law enforcement arrived at 1:55 p.m., finding Cochran lying facedown in the parking lot ready to surrender to law enforcement.

Chandler said that officers recovered a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol from the scene. He is expecting video and audio footage of the entire incident to be available from the Hamilton Police Department’s surveillance system.

Chandler said that Cochran was lawfully carrying a handgun with a concealed carry permit. Garcia was unarmed and was pronounced dead at the scene.

According to Chandler, Garcia was of Filipino descent and had no immediate family living in the area. Efforts are being made to notify his relatives.

According to the father’s and mother’s custody agreement signed in August 2018, the Hamilton Police Department was the designated location for all exchanges.

The custody order was on a weekly rotation between the two parents and had special guidelines for holidays.

For Christmas 2018, Garcia was entitled to custody of the children from 9 a.m. on Christmas Eve, Monday, Dec. 24, until 2 p.m. on Christmas Day.

Garcia was shot while dropping off his two children for Norgard to take over custody.

Hamilton Chief Ronny Vickery told the Journal Record that custody exchanges have taken place at the police department for years.

However, the department isn’t the only place they take place.

Vickery said that when there are tensions or when two people don’t want to do exchanges of their children at the other’s residence, it is common for a neutral location to be picked.

The police chief said that he knows of exchanges which take place at the sheriff’s department, fire department and even McDonald’s and Walmart.

(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.)

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