• Wed. Nov 30th, 2022

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Mississippi seeks execution date in 2000 killing of teenager

JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi attorney general’s office is asking the state to set an execution date for a former U.S. Marine Corps recruiter who was convicted in the 2000 rape and killing of a 16-year-old waitress.

Thomas Edwin Loden Jr., now 58, has been on death row since 2001, when he pleaded guilty to capital murder, rape and four counts of sexual battery.

Mississippi’s most recent execution was in November.

According to documents the attorney general filed Tuesday with the state Supreme Court, Loden kidnapped Leesa Marie Gray, who was stranded on the side of a road in northern Mississippi’s Itawamba County. Court records said Loden spent four hours repeatedly raping and sexually battering Gray before suffocating and strangling her to death.

Gray disappeared June 22, 2000, on her way home from working as a waitress at her family’s restaurant in the Dorsey community. Prosecutors said she was last seen driving out of the restaurant parking lot. Relatives found her car hours later with her purse still inside and the hazard lights flashing.

According to court documents, her body was found the next day in Loden’s van.

Loden had joined the Marine Corps immediately after he graduated from high school in Itawamba County in 1982. He served in Operation Desert Storm and went to recruiter school in 1998. Loden started operating the Marines’ recruiting office later that year in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

During Loden’s sentencing hearing after he pleaded guilty, he did not cross examine state witnesses, did not object to exhibits that prosecutors showed and did not offer any evidence to help his own case, the attorney general’s office wrote.

Loden filed several appeals of his conviction, and those were unsuccessful.

In 2015, he joined other four other Mississippi death row inmates in a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s lethal injection protocol. The state revised the protocol to allow the use of midazolam if thiopental or pentobarbital cannot be obtained.

A federal district judge granted an injunction to prevent the state from using compounded pentobarbital or midazolam, but the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling. The case is back at the district court and is unresolved.

The state attorney general’s office wrote Tuesday that the ongoing challenge to the lethal injection protocol “is not an impediment to setting Loden’s execution.”

Merrida Coxwell, one of the attorneys representing Loden in the federal lawsuit, declined to comment Tuesday on the attorney general’s request for an execution date because he had not yet read the filing. Another attorney in the federal lawsuit, Stacy Ferraro, did not immediately respond to a phone message from The Associated Press.

The execution last November was Mississippi’s first in nine years. A lethal injection was given to a David Neal Cox, who had pleaded guilty to killing his estranged wife and sexually assaulting her young daughter as her mother lay dying in 2012.