Miss. Supreme Court rejects faulty plea claim of death row inmate

Published 4:34 pm Friday, October 5, 2007

The Mississippi Supreme Court has rejected arguments from Thomas E. Loden Jr. that he relied on faulty advice from his attorney when he pleaded guilty to capital murder and was unexpectedly sentenced to death.

Loden had contended he didn’t know he gave up his right to appeal by pleading guilty to capital murder. Loden wanted a new trial.

Justice Michael Randolph, writing Thursday for the Supreme Court, said because Loden pleaded guilty to all charges, the validity of that plea can’t be appealed.

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Loden had argued in May before the Supreme Court that it appeared from the court record that Loden’s attorney and the trial judge also believed Loden could appeal his guilty plea.

Randolph said there was no evidence of that.

Prosecutors said the court record showed Circuit Judge Thomas J. Gardner III repeatedly asked Loden whether he understood no appeal was available from a guilty plea and that every time Loden answered that he understood.

The Supreme Court also rejected Loden’s argument that his lawyer should have done a better job of advising him on the guilty plea.

Randolph said Loden acknowledged during questioning by the judge that his lawyer had explained everything to him, including the consequences of a guilty plea.

Loden, a former Marine recruiter, 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.

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