Thomas Loden, convicted of rape and murder, is scheduled to be executed Dec. 14, 2022. Credit: MDOC

Mississippi has scheduled the execution of a former military recruiter who raped and murdered a teenage waitress in north Mississippi. 

Thomas Edwin Loden Jr., 58,  is scheduled to be executed Dec. 14 at 6 p.m. at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. 

“After due consideration, the Court finds that Loden has exhausted all state and federal remedies for purposes of setting an execution date,” Chief Justice Michael Randolph wrote in a Thursday order. 

Six justices joined Randolph to approve the execution order and the remaining two denied granting the execution. 

In 2000, Loden kidnapped 16-year-old Lessa Marie Gray, after seeing her stranded on the side of the road in Dorsey in Itawamba County. 

After seeing the girl working at Comer’s Restaurant, he flattened a tire on her car and waited for Gray to leave work, according to court documents. Loden pulled up next to Gray’s car and offered to help, telling her he was a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. 

When she replied to his question about wanting to become a Marine, Loden became upset and forced Gray into his van, according to court documents. He sexually assaulted her and then killed her by strangulation and suffocation. 

Loden, a gunnery sergeant and a Marine recruiter in Vicksburg, was on a 10-day leave and in the area to visit his grandmother’s farm.

The next day, police found his van on the farm and transported it to New Albany for a state crime scene investigation team to examine, according to court documents. Inside they found Gray’s body. 

In 2001, Loden was sentenced to death and an additional 150 years for rape and sexual battery. 

He sought appeals and post-conviction relief, but those requests were denied. 

In October, the attorney general’s office filed a motion to set an execution date for Loden. 

Loden’s attorney asked for the execution to be stayed because a 1983 civil lawsuit he joined challenging the method of execution is still active. The state argued the lawsuit does not challenge Loden’s conviction or sentence. 

The last person to be executed in Mississippi was David Neal Cox on Nov. 17, 2021. His execution was the first after a nine-year break. 


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Mina, a California native, covers the criminal justice system. Before joining Mississippi Today, she was a reporter for the Clarion Ledger and newspapers in Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and USA Today.