Court denies Loden’s death-sentence appeal

JACKSON – Convicted murderer Thomas E. Loden Jr.’s latest appeal was denied Thursday by the Mississippi Supreme Court.
The decision came on Loden’s 2009 request for a new hearing on his 2001 Itawamba County death sentence in the death of Leesa Gray, 16.
The former Marine recruiter, now 46, also was sentenced to 30 years on kidnapping and rape charges.
In April, the Mississippi Supreme Court turned down Loden’s attorneys’ request to reconsider his sentence. Circuit Judge Thomas Gardner III, who presided over his trial, turned down a similar appeal in 2008.
“Mr. Loden’s appeals now move over to the federal system,” said Glenn S. Swartzfager, who represents Loden through the Mississippi Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel.
He said they have several options about how to proceed but won’t make any specific decisions until they speak with Loden, an inmate at the state penitentiary at Parchman.
Regardless, the decision marks an end to the state appeals phase, Swartzfager noted.
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.
Gray was last seen driving out of the restaurant parking lot. Relatives found her car hours later, her purse still inside, hazard lights flashing.
In 2007, the Mississippi Supreme Court rejected Loden’s claims he relied on faulty advice from his attorney when he pleaded guilty to capital murder and was unexpectedly sentenced to death.
The court record shows that Gardner repeatedly asked Loden if he understood that no appeal was available from a guilty plea and that every time Loden answered that he understood.

Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal