Mississippi Executes 'Deeply Remorseful' Killer

Thomas Edwin Loden Jr. kidnapped, raped, murdered 16-year-old girl in 2000
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 15, 2022 4:09 AM CST
Mississippi Executes Man for Rape, Murder of Teen Girl
Wanda Farris sits beside a picture of her daughter, 16-year-old Leesa Gray, that hangs inside Comer's Restaurant in Dorsey Miss., Thursday Dec. 8, 2022.   (Thomas Wells/The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal via AP)

A man who pleaded guilty to raping and killing a 16-year-old girl was put to death by lethal injection in Mississippi on Wednesday, becoming the second inmate executed in the state in 10 years. A coroner pronounced Thomas Edwin Loden Jr., 58, dead at 6:12pm at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. The manner of death had been the subject of Loden's final attempt to stave off the execution He has been on death row since 2001, when he pleaded guilty to capital murder, rape, and four counts of sexual battery against Leesa Marie Gray. Earlier this month, a federal judge declined to block Mississippi from carrying out the execution amid a pending lawsuit from Loden and four Mississippi death row inmates over the state’s lethal injection protocol. Mississippi’s most recent execution was in November 2021.

Before the injection started, Loden said he was "deeply remorseful." "For the past 20 years, I’ve tried to do a good deed every single day to make up for the life I took from this world,” Loden said. "If today brings you nothing else, I hope you get peace and closure." During the summer ahead of what should have been Gray's senior year of high school, she had worked as a waitress at her uncle’s restaurant in northeast Mississippi. On June 22, 2000, she left work after dark and became stranded with a flat tire on a rural road. Loden, a Marine Corps recruiter with relatives in the area, encountered Gray on the road around 10:45pm. He stopped and began speaking with the teenager about the flat tire.

Loden told investigators he became angry after Gray allegedly said she would never want to be a Marine, and that he ordered her into his van. He spent four hours sexually assaulting her before strangling and suffocating her, according to an interview he gave investigators. Wanda Farris, Gray's mother, described her daughter as a "happy-go-lucky, always smiling" teenager who aspired to become an elementary school teacher. Farris told the AP on Friday that she forgave Loden years ago, but she did not believe his apology. "I don’t particularly want to see somebody die," Farris said. "But I do believe in the death penalty. ... I do believe in justice." She witnessed the execution and did not address the media afterward, the Clarion Ledger reports. (More execution stories.)

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