Miss. Supreme Court schedules arguments in death row case

Published 6:38 pm Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Mississippi Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday from death row inmate Thomas E. Loden Jr., a former Marine recruiter appealing his conviction for the murder of an Itawamba County teenager.

Loden was sentenced to death in 2001 in Itawamba County for killing 16-year-old Leesa Gray. He was sentenced to 30 years on kidnapping and rape counts.

Gray disappeared June 22, 2000, while on her way home from work as a waitress at her family’s restaurant in the Dorsey community. She was found dead of strangulation the next day in Loden’s van, according to court documents.

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Gray was last seen driving out of the restaurant parking lot. Relatives found her car hours later, her purse still inside, hazard lights flashing.

Among the evidence presented was video footage, allegedly made by Loden, of the acts being committed on Gray. The videotape was not viewed during the hearing, but previously had been viewed by the trial judge and attorneys for the prosecution and defense.

According to the court record, Loden’s face was not visible on the tapes. His feet, arms and legs were visible and his voice could be heard, prosecutors said.

Defense attorneys had argued that Loden’s confession was given without the benefit of legal counsel. The trial judge ruled the confession could be used by prosecutors.

Loden graduated in 1982 from Itawamba Agricultural High School and immediately joined the U.S. Marine Corps. He served in Operation Desert Storm and went to recruiter school in 1998. Loden was assigned to Vicksburg later that year, where he started operating the recruiting office.