In Mississippi, inmate Thomas Loden Jr. is executed for raping and killing a young girl

A man who confessed to brutally raping and killing a young girl stranded on the side of a Mississippi road more than two decades ago was executed by the state on Wednesday.

Thomas Edwin Loden Jr., 58, became the second inmate to be executed in the state in 10 years when he was pronounced dead at 6:12 p.m. after being injected with a deadly drug cocktail at Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman.

Loden pleaded guilty to count of capital murder, rape and four counts of sexual assault for the June 2000 murder of 16-year-old Leesa Marie Gray. He had been on death row since 2011 when he pleaded guilty.

Loden, a former US Marines Corps recruiter, said he was “deeply remorseful” for murdering Gray, who would soon be a high school senior.

The teenager was walking home from her shift as a waitress at her uncle’s restaurant on the night of June 22, 2000, when she suffered a flat tire. Loden spotted them on the side of the road and stopped his car, apparently to offer help.

“Don’t worry,” Loden reportedly said to Gray. “I’m a Marine. We do stuff like that.”

But instead of helping the girl, he ordered her into his van after getting angry when she allegedly said she would never want to be a Marine, he said.

A small group of people gather on the day of Loden's execution to support Leesa Marie Gray's mother and family.
A small group of people gather on the day of Loden’s execution to support Leesa Marie Gray’s mother and family.
Rogelio V. Solis/AP

Loden sexually assaulted Gray for four hours into the early hours of the morning before strangling and smothering her, he told investigators.

The next day, according to court records, Loden was found “lying on the side of the road with the words ‘I’m sorry’ carved on his chest and obviously self-inflicted lacerations on his wrists.”

The convicted killer said he knew he could never take back the heartbreak he caused by killing the teenager, in his final words on Wednesday.

“For the past 20 years, I’ve tried to do one good deed every single day to redeem the life I’ve taken from this world,” he said. “I know these are just words and cannot erase the damage I have done. If nothing else brings you today, I hope you get peace and closure.”

Loden, who wore red prison jumpsuits, was covered with a white sheet and held on a stretcher, said “I love you” in Japanese at the end, officials said.

Traffic exits the front gate to Mississippi State Penitentiary
The 58-year-old man was a former US Marines Corps recruiter.
Rogelio V. Solis/AP

Gray’s mother, Wanda Farris, attended the execution. She said she forgiven Loden years ago but believes in the death penalty.

“I don’t necessarily want to see anyone die,” she said. “But I believe in the death penalty. … I believe in justice.”

Farris said her daughter was an easygoing, always smiling teenager who wanted to be an elementary school teacher. In Mississippi, inmate Thomas Loden Jr. is executed for raping and killing a young girl


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