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Mississippi executes Thomas Loden Jr. for 16-year-old waitress’ murder. He had sued over the lethal injection protocol

FILE - This May 25, 2022, photo released by the Mississippi Department of Corrections shows Thomas Edwin Loden Jr., who is set to receive a lethal injection at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman, Miss., on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022. He's been on death row since 2001, when he pleaded guilty to capital murder, rape and four counts of sexual battery against 16-year old Leesa Marie Gray.. (Mississippi Department of Corrections via AP, File)

(CNN) — Mississippi has executed Thomas Loden Jr., who was sentenced to death for the 2000 murder of a 16-year-old girl, amid a legal challenge by him and other inmates to the state’s lethal injection protocol.

Loden, 58, was pronounced dead Wednesday at 6:12 p.m. CT. He expressed his remorse to victim Leesa Marie Gray’s family before the lethal injection sequence began, state corrections Commissioner Burl Cain said, adding Leesa’s mother attended the execution but didn’t make any public comments.

There were “absolutely no problems” with the injection process, Cain said. “Process worked perfectly.”

Loden and the other inmates have argued in court that Mississippi’s lethal injection protocol is unconstitutional and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the Eighth Amendment. Similar lawsuits have been filed as states have struggled in recent years to obtain the drugs needed for executions as drug companies began withholding them so they wouldn’t be used to put people to death.

As a result, the drugs used in lethal injections and how states get them are increasingly shielded from public scrutiny, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Lethal injection remains the primary execution method in the 27 US states were capital punishment remains on the books.

A federal judge last week ruled Loden’s status in the suit over Mississippi’s protocol did not provide him a “shield against execution.”

Loden was sent to Mississippi’s death row in 2001 for killing Leesa, a waitress who vanished after leaving her family’s restaurant, CNN affiliate WLBT reported. Loden kidnapped, raped and sexually abused Leesa over several hours, WLBT reported, and court records indicate Loden videotaped parts of his crimes before killing her.

Loden pleaded guilty to the crimes, court documents show, and his conviction and sentence were upheld on appeal.

State has 4 execution methods
Loden in 2015 joined the lawsuit initiated by two other men on death row challenging the constitutionality of Mississippi’s lethal injection protocol and the drugs used, according to the order filed last week by US District Court Judge Henry Wingate.

In light of Mississippi’s continued problems getting the designated drugs, the state last year passed a law allowing officials to choose from among four execution methods, including by nitrogen gas, electrocution, firing squad or lethal injection.

State officials informed Loden they planned to put him to death by lethal injection, Wingate’s order notes, and Loden asked the courts to intervene to prevent the state from carrying out his execution while the lawsuit proceeded through the courts.

The judge noted that, were he to rule in Loden’s favor, Mississippi could choose another method to put him to death but acknowledged that likely would prompt a new lawsuit. Ultimately, the judge ruled against him.