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5th Cir. Rules Against Man Who Taped Murder

(CN) - A Mississippi man who videotaped himself committing murder and rape was properly denied a writ of habeas corpus, the 5th Circuit ruled.

The man, Thomas Loden Jr., pleaded guilty in state court to the rape and murder of a Mississippi waitress that he met while visiting his grandmother in Itawamba County, Miss., in June 2000. Following his guilty plea, the trial court sentenced him to death.

Loden, who worked as a recruiter for the U.S. Marine Corps, claimed his wife told him prior to the crime that she'd had phone sex with one of her coworkers and that "she planned on having sexual intercourse with [the coworker] while Loden was away," according to U.S. Circuit Judge Carolyn Dineen King, writing for the three-judge panel.

Loden then went to the restaurant where the victim worked and ordered dinner. After the waitress got off work, "Loden claims he saw her car by the side of the road and stopped," the opinion states.

Loden claimed attacked the waitress after becoming incensed when the victim expressed a lack of interest in enlisting in the Marine Corps.

"Loden states that her response enraged him, and he then kidnapped her in his van. He then raped her repeatedly and strangled her to death," Judge King wrote.

According to her opinion, Loden recorded a substantial portion of his crime using a camcorder. The video, which reportedly showed graphic evidence of the crimes, was subsequently found by the police while investigating the victim's disappearance, Judge King wrote.

That same day, Loden himself was found "lying on the side of a road," with his wrists slashed and the words "I'm sorry" carved across his chest. He was subsequently arrested and indicted for capital murder, rape and sexual battery.

In his petition for writ of habeas corpus, Loden argued ineffective assistance of counsel, claiming his attorneys had "failed to accurately advise him of the scope of his appellate rights" or present mitigating evidence during sentencing.

Concerning his argument that counsel had misinformed him of his appellate rights, the 5th Circuit ruled that it was not unreasonable for the trial court to find that Loden's case had not been prejudiced by counsel's performance.

"The state trial court was free to conclude, based on Loden's testimony, that Loden understood his appellate rights at the time of trial or that the other considerations that prompted Loden to plead guilty would nevertheless have motivated him to maintain a guilty plea even had he known he would be unable to appeal the trial court's rulings on his suppression motions," King wrote.

Loden also argued that his attorneys had failed to properly present mitigating evidence at sentencing. However, Loden himself had "instructed his attorneys not to present any mitigation evidence." And he also chose to give a statement in place of their closing argument, during which he expressed remorse to the victim's family and his desire to "keep the proceedings as short and painless as possible for everyone," the panel said.

On the mitigation claim, the panel stated succinctly that "the district court's denial of Loden's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel based on his attorney's mitigation investigation was not in error."

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