Death row inmate’s appeal before state high court|Former Vicksburg resident Loden convicted of 2000 murder of teen

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 9, 2009

JACKSON (AP) — A post-conviction petition from death row inmate Thomas E. Loden Jr. is one of dozens of appeals the Mississippi Supreme Court will hear during its November-December term.

Loden is a former Marine recruiter who was living in Vicksburg when he was sentenced to death in 2001 in Itawamba County for killing 16-year-old Leesa Gray in June 2000. He was also sentenced to 30 years on kidnapping and rape counts.

In a post-conviction petition, an inmate argues he has found new evidence — or a possible constitutional issue — that could persuade a court to order a new trial.

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In 2000, Loden and his wife and daughter were living on Markham Street in Vicksburg and he was working as a military recruiter at what was then Sack ‘N Save Plaza. He was visiting relatives in the Dorsey community in Itawamba County at the time of the killing.

Gray disappeared on her way home from work as a waitress at her family’s restaurant. Court documents say she was found dead of strangulation the next day in Loden’s van.

Following his arrest, Loden was indicted for capital murder, rape, and four counts of sexual battery. On September 21, 2001, he waived his right to a jury for trial and sentencing, and pleaded guilty to all counts.

Loden had previously appealed his conviction in 2007, claiming he’d received inadequate advice from his attorney. That appeal, which also went to the state Supreme Court, was denied.