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Suspected Jail Killer May Have Had Prior Grievance With Victim

The first thing suspected killer Jesse Valdez told Hill County detention staff after a deadly fight with an inmate was, “He’s the guy that killed my relative,” according to court documents.

On Sunday, detention officers found 54-year-old Gordon Cochran bleeding from the head and without a pulse. He was transported to the hospital, where he was declared dead.

Cochran had been in jail for one day, after he was arrested Saturday on disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges.

Valdez, who was on probation for a brutal assault in 2017, was arrested Wednesday after he allegedly kicked in the door to a Havre home and broke in. Police suspected Valdez was on meth during that incident, according to court documents. He’s now being held on $500,000 bond, with a pending charge of deliberate homicide.

Jesse Valdez

Here is how Cochran ended up dead in the Hill County Detention Center, as described in court documents:

On Sunday at about 6:30 p.m., detention officers were alerted to check a cell, where they found Valdez and Cochran, who was lying face down. Valdez was already on the floor with his hands behind his head, telling the officer he wasn’t going to fight. He then said Gordon was the guy who killed his relative.

The officer checked Cochran’s pulse and after not finding one, began chest compressions. He then called for emergency medical help.

After arriving, EMTs tried life-saving measures.

Cochran was transported to Northern Montana Hospital, where he was declared dead.

The Hill County sheriff called Havre police officers and the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation to review the incident.

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During an interview, an inmate told investigators that earlier in the day Valdez said he was going to beat up Cochran. Shortly afterward, the inmate said, he heard a commotion upstairs.

Valdez then walked in and said he beat up the “old man.”

The inmate went upstairs to Cochran’s cell, where he was found with a bloody cut on his nose. Cochran, according to the inmate, said he didn’t want to tell detention staff about it.

Later, around 6:30 p.m., the inmate said he and two others heard banging upstairs. They went back to Cochran’s cell, where they found Valdez inside, with the door to the cell shut. He was standing over Cochran, smiling, the inmate said. An inmate then pushed the intercom asking for help.

A second inmate told investigators he heard someone yell that there was a fight going on upstairs. “They all went upstairs,” the second inmate said, found the door shut, and then pushed the intercom for help. This inmate also told investigators that a few days prior, Valdez said he was “not feeling right.”

A third inmate told investigators that Valdez had been acting like he was a gangster all day, so he stayed away.

After hearing the commotion, the third inmate said, he went to see what was happening, looked through the window of the cell door and saw Valdez sitting on the bunk, and Cochran lying on the floor in blood. Valdez then looked at him through the window of the cell door and smiled, the third inmate said.

The inmate pushed the intercom button and asked for help.

The detention dispatcher told investigators she got an alert on the intercom from the cell and another one very quickly afterward from the main intercom. She said someone told her they needed help. She said she saw three people coming down from Cochran’s cell.

Investigators then interviewed Valdez, who agreed to speak without an attorney.

Valdez had dried blood on his pants.

Throughout the interview, he told investigators he believed Cochran had some involvement in his sister’s death. He said Cochran told him that his involvement included money. However, Valdez denied the fight had anything to do with what he believed was Cochran’s involvement in the death of his sister about a year ago.

There is nothing in the court documents that validates Valdez’s claim regarding the victim.

He told investigators that Cochran insulted him earlier in the day.

Valdez said he went into Cochran’s cell to talk to him about the name he called him. Cohran punched him, he said. He then punched Cochran and by the end of the fight, Cochran’s face was swollen and bleeding.

Valdez said he later returned to Cochran’s cell to “make peace” with him. Valdez said they were sitting and talking when Cochran began to antagonize him and punch him, reigniting the fight. He said they choked each other. Investigators noticed that Valdez had marks on the right side of his neck. He also had bruises on the inside of his mouth.

Valdez said he was “fighting for his life.”

He said he had gotten hold of another inmate’s glasses and tried to stab Cochran with them, but they bent on contact.

During the fight, when Cochran was face down on the ground, Valdez said he stomped on him. He then flipped him over and did the same. The investigators noticed that Valdez’s sandals had dried blood on them.

Valdez said he threw Cochran into the concrete wall. In the area, there was a metal bunk and metal bench, with metal edges. He said he threw Cochran in that area. The investigator told Valdez about Cochran’s major head injury, to which he replied the injury could have happened when he threw Cochran around.

Valdez was told Cochran was dead and he appeared shocked, “although earlier in the interview he seemed to already know that.”

Valdez said he could’ve left and not went back to Cochran’s cell and the fight would have been over, adding, “I did not think it would end up like this.”


This story has been updated.

Email Paul Dragu at (406) 262-7778
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