Saturday, February 4, 2023

State News: Marine Executed 22 Years After Rape and Murder of Teen

By Mina Corpuz

Mississippi Today

Alec Valentine and Jan Hillegas with Mississippians Educating for Smart Justice, endured inclement weather to protest the execution of convicted murderer Thomas Loden Jr. in front of the Governor’s Mansion, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, shortly before. Loden’s scheduled execution at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

More than 20 years after his conviction for murder and rape, Thomas Loden Jr. was put to death by lethal injection Wednesday evening at the Mississippi State Penitentiary. 

Loden, 58, was pronounced dead at 6:12 p.m. Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain said the execution had no problems and went as expected. 

“I’d like to express to the Gray family and anyone else I hurt how deeply remorseful I am for everything I did,” Loden said in his last words. “I know these mere words mean nothing and cannot erase the damage I did. For the last 20 years, I’ve tried to do a good deed every single day to make up for the life I took from this world. If nothing else, I hope you get peace and closure.”

At the end, he said the words “I love you” in Japanese, said Deputy Commissioner Jeworski Mallet.

In June 2000, Loden, a Marine Corps recruiter, kidnapped 16-year-old waitress Leesa Gray and sexually assaulted her for hours in his car before killing her. 

The crime verberated throughout the Dorsey community in northeast Mississippi. Over 1,000 people attended Gray’s funeral held at Itawamba Agricultural High School, where she had just finished her junior year. 

Loden pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to death. He went on to spend the next 20 years trying to appeal his conviction in state and federal court.

Thomas Loden, convicted of rape and murder, was executed on Dec. 14, 2022.

As of Wednesday morning, he didn’t plan to seek further delays in his execution. Loden’s last attempt to stop the execution was last week when he sought a stay from U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate in an ongoing lawsuit challenging the state’s use of a three-drug cocktail for lethal injections. 

At an afternoon news conference, Parchman Superintendent Marc McClure said he spent most of the day with Loden and found he was in good spirits and seemed accepting about the execution. 

“He was genuinely concerned about what he had done [and] ready to do what he had to do,” McClure said. 

Members of Gray’s family, including her mother Wanda Farris, previously said they would witness Loden’s execution. Lisa Darracott, Gray’s best friend from childhood, also came to Parchman to support Gray’s family but not as a witness. 

A Department of Corrections spokesman said there were two witnesses from Gray’s family and two for Loden, but their names were not provided. 

Loden had requested daily visits from the Department of Corrections chaplain Maurice Clifton and a mental health professional leading up to the execution, prison officials said. 

Loden’s last meal was fried pork chops, fried okra, a baked sweet potato and biscuits, prison officials said. Dessert was peach cobbler with French vanilla ice cream and a Lipton sweet tea for a drink.

Several people who are against the death penalty demonstrated outside the Governor’s Mansion in Jackson in the early evening and at Parchman right before the execution. 

In Fulton, community members gathered at Bethel Baptist Church in the evening wearing purple in remembrance of Gray, who attended the church.

On Tuesday, advocates from Death Penalty Action delivered a petition signed by about 3,500 people to Gov. Tate Reeves, asking him to stop Loden’s execution. The Catholic Mobilizing Network circulating a similar petition online. 

READ MORE: Marine’s troubled life set to end with execution


This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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