Oct. 7 — JACKSON — Before setting a date for the execution of an Itawamba County man, the state’s highest court will give Thomas Edwin “Eddie” Loden an opportunity to comment.
In an order filed Thursday, Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Randolph gave Loden until Friday, Oct. 14 to respond to the state’s request to set an execution date.
Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch on Tuesday filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to set an execution date for Loden, 58, who has been on Mississippi’s death row since 2001. In the petition, Fitch said Loden has exhausted all state and federal appeals. She asked the court to set an execution date within 28 days.
Loden pleaded guilty more than two decades ago to capital murder, rape and four counts of sexual assault in the June 22, 2000 death of Leesa Marie Gray, a 16-year-old waitress at a Dorsey Restaurant. Following his plea, Circuit Court Judge Thomas Gardner sentenced Loden to death plus an additional 150 years on the remaining counts.
Loden, a 1982 Itawamba AHS graduate, was a gunnery sergeant and head of the U.S. Marine Corps recruiting office in Vicksburg in the summer of 2000. He was on 10-day leave and visiting Dorsey Farm from his invalid grandmother when he visited Comer’s Restaurant on Route 178 on June 22.
After spotting the waitress, he reportedly punctured a tire on her car and waited for her to leave work after 10:30 p.m. Thursday night. He pulled up next to his broken down car and offered to help, saying he was a Marine and they did that stuff. When he asked her if she had ever thought about becoming a Marine, she said it was the last thing she would do, which infuriated him.
“And that upset me a lot,” he later told investigators. “What she said pissed me off so much that I told her to get in the van.”
Over the next four hours, Loden sexually assaulted Gray, filming parts of the assault before finally killing her by a combination of choking and hand strangulation.
When Gray didn’t come home from work, her family contacted authorities and a massive search began Friday morning. Police found the customized Ford van Loden driving around midday on June 23, 2000 at the family farm. After obtaining a search warrant, the van was transported to New Albany so that the state’s crime scene investigation team could examine it thoroughly. Gray’s naked body was found under a folded down seat in the back of the van. His hands and feet were bound.
At approximately 6:30 p.m. that same day, Loden was found on Charlie Donald Road in the community of Ballardsville. According to court documents, Loden had “the words ‘I’m sorry’ carved into his chest and apparent self-inflicted lacerations on his wrists.” Investigators then discovered a freshly dug grave in a well-hidden section of the grandmother’s 175-acre farm.
After an Itawamba County grand jury indicted Loden, he pleaded not guilty to all charges at his arraignment. Due to the extensive local coverage of the case, Judge Gardner approved a change of venue and said he intended to move the trial to Rankin County.
About a month before the trial began, Loden changed his mind and pleaded guilty. He did not challenge any of the state’s witnesses and was sentenced to death.
Over the past two decades, Loden has tried to appeal both his conviction and the death sentence. Every offer of post-conviction help has been turned down.
In a separate appeal in 2018, Loden joined other prisoners in arguing that the state’s lethal injection drugs were unconstitutional. Loden said midazolam was not an appropriate anesthetic and should not be used in the three-drug mix the state of Mississippi uses to execute inmates.
The Mississippi Supreme Court dismissed that appeal in December 2018, saying Loden presented only unproven expert arguments and said “parts of his affidavits … are a ‘sham’ and unsubstantiated. by the established medical literature”. The 6-2 ruling further stated that “the United States Supreme Court considered the same arguments presented in Loden’s motion and rejected them.”
Mississippi resumed executions last fall after a 9-year hiatus. David Neal Cox, who was convicted of killing his estranged wife and sexually assaulting his stepdaughter, died by lethal injection on November 17, 2021. Before Cox, the last execution was Gary Carl Simmons Jr. in June 2012, for the murder and dismemberment of Jeffery Wolfe for a drug debt.