Mississippi executes inmate Thomas Loden Jr., who raped and killed teenage girl

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

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

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

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

The teen was on her way home from her waitressing shift at her uncle’s restaurant on the night of June 22, 2000 when she got a flat tire. Loden spotted her on the side of the road and stopped his car, apparently offering to help.

“Don’t worry,” Loden reportedly told Gray. “I’m a Marine. We do this kind of stuff.”

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

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

Loden sexually assaulted Gray for a horrific four hours into the early morning before he strangled and suffocated her to death, he told investigators.

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

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

“For the past 20 years, I’ve tried to do a good deed every single day to make up for the life I took from this world,” he said. “I know these are mere words and cannot erase the damage I did. If today brings you nothing else, I hope you get peace and closure.”

Loden, who was dressed in a red prison jumpsuit and was covered by a white sheet and restrained on a gurney, concluded by saying “I love you” in Japanese, officials said.

Traffic leaves the front gate to the 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 forgave Loden years ago, but believes in the death penalty.

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

Farris said her daughter was a “happy-go-lucky” teenager who was always smiling and wanted to become an elementary school teacher.

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