A man who raped and killed a 16-year-old girl in Mississippi was put to death by lethal injection on Wednesday, becoming the second inmate executed in the state in 10 years, according to the Associated Press. Thomas Edwin Loden Jr., 58, was pronounced dead at 6:12 p.m. by Sunflower County Coroner Heather Burton. He’d been on death row since 2001, when he pleaded guilty to capital murder, rape, and four counts of sexual battery against Leesa Marie Gray. She was stranded with a flat tire in June 2000 when Loden forced her into his van. Gray’s mother, Wanda Farris, attended the execution at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. Mississippi’s most recent execution was in November 2021. This month, a federal judge declined to block Loden’s execution amid a pending lawsuit by him and four other Mississippi death row inmates over the state’s use of three drugs for lethal injections, a protocol they allege is inhumane. Before the injection started, Loden said he was “deeply remorseful.” “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,” Loden 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.” He concluded his last words by saying “I love you” in Japanese.
Grey had been working as a waitress at her uncle’s restaurant in northeast Mississippi when she got a flat after leaving work. Loden, a Marine Corps recruiter with relatives in the area, stopped and began talking with her about the flat. “Don’t worry. I’m a Marine. We do this kind of stuff,” he said. Loden told investigators he became angry after Grey allegedly said she would never want to be a Marine, and he ordered her into his van. He spent four hours sexually assaulting her before strangling and suffocating her, he told investigators. The next afternoon, court records say “Loden was discovered 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.” Loden's execution proceeded after U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate allowed, saying the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld a three-drug lethal injection protocol in Oklahoma seven years ago. To avoid a botched execution Mississippi has done “mock executions and drills” on a monthly basis, said Jeworski Mallett of the Department of Corrections, said. The department said last year that it had acquired three drugs for its lethal injection protocol: midazolam, which is a sedative; vecuronium bromide, which paralyzes the muscles; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. Since 2019, only Alabama, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Tennessee have used a three-drug protocol. Jim Craig of the MacArthur Center said a majority of death-penalty states and the federal government used a three-drug protocol in 2008, but the federal government and most of those states have since started using one drug.