Federal appeals court denies new trial to Mississippi death row inmate

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JACKSON, Mississippi — A Mississippi man who pleaded guilty in the rape and killing of a waitress in 2000 has been denied a new trial by a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Thomas Loden Jr. had argued his attorneys gave him poor legal advice during his Lee County trial.

Loden pleaded guilty in the killing of 16-year-old Leesa Gray. He was sentenced to death for pleading guilty to capital murder plus 30 years on kidnapping and rape counts.

Gray disappeared June 22, 2000, while on her way home from work as a waitress at her family's restaurant in the Dorsey community. According to court documents, her body was found the next day in Loden's van.

Loden has previously argued his original defense attorney failed to fully investigate his mental condition and background and gave him poor advice that led him to plead guilty and waive jury sentencing.

In 2013, U.S. District Judge Neal B. Biggers in Oxford, Mississippi, ruled Loden failed to prove his trial attorneys were inadequate.

Biggers sided with the Mississippi Supreme Court's findings that Loden was given "the basic tools of an adequate defense," including funding to hire an investigator, a full evaluation by the forensic staff at the Mississippi State Hospital and the services of an independent psychologist.

Prosecutors said Loden was aware of the proceedings that were taking place in the state court and actively participated in a question-and-answer session during his guilty plea.

Appeals Court Judge Carolyn King wrote in the panel's decision that Loden's arguments are countered by his decision that his trial lawyers not question prosecution witnesses or put any evidence at a sentencing hearing to help him avoid the death penalty.

King said Loden affirmed his decision under lengthy questioning by the trial judge.

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