Vicksburg man pleads innocent to killing teen in Itawamba

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Prosecutors announced Tuesday they will seek the execution of Thomas Edwin Loden, who pleaded innocent the same day to charges that he raped and murdered 16-year-old Leesa Gray in June.

At the time of Leesa’s death, Loden was living in Vicksburg and working as a military recruiter. He was visiting relatives in the Dorsey community in Itawamba County at the time of the killing.

Loden was indicted by an Itawamba County grand jury on charges of capital murder, rape and four separate counts of sexual battery.

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“There were four separate acts of sexual assault that we have proof of and that we cannot ignore,” said Assistant District Attorney Dennis Ferris.

The indictments were the first public acknowledgement by authorities that evidence exists to indicate a sexual assault in addition to the strangulation killing.

Loden pleaded innocent in his arraignment hearing before First Circuit Judge Richard Bowen. The court appointed Pontotoc attorney James Johnston to defend the case. Loden continues to be held without bond in Itawamba County Jail.

No judge has been assigned to the case, and no trial date has been set. A deadline of Jan. 12 has been set for pretrial motions and plea changes.

Loden was arrested June 24, the day after Leesa disappeared, when an exhaustive search effort for the missing girl ended with the discovery of her body behind a back seat of his van.

Leesa worked as a waitress in her family’s restaurant, where Loden ordered a cheeseburger just before closing time on June 23. She never made it home from work that night, and her car was found pulled over with a punctured tire a few hundred yards from the restaurant.

When authorities found Loden, he was bleeding from a failed suicide attempt. He was taken immediately to a Tupelo hospital, and then on to the Union County Jail.