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Appeals Court upholds Tait Purk conviction for 2nd degree murder

November 15, 2019
Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

By John Speer


Article Photos

Tait Otis Purk

Tait Otis Purk's conviction and sentence on 2nd degree murder in Tama County District Court was affirmed by the Iowa Court of Appeals last week.

District Court Judge Ian K. Thornhill found Purk guilty of killing his girlfriend Cora Ann Okonski following a bench trial in Toledo on Dec. 8, 2017. Okonski, then age 23, had vanished in Tama on April 16, 2000. She, nor her body, have never been located. Purk was indicted by a Tama County Grand Jury in December, 2016.

The Appeals Court found Purk's claims of ineffective counsel, improper evidence and the verdict was not supported by sufficient evidence were all insufficient.

Purk, 52, had earlier been found guilty of 1st degree murder in a trial held on a change of venue in Iowa County in May, 2017. District Judge Mitchell E. Turner set aside that verdict in August, 2017, citing issues he said he had with witnesses' credibility.

Purk was sentenced by Judge Thornhill to a mandatory 50-year prison term on Feb. 1, 2018.

"The family of Cora Okonski recognizes the decision of the Iowa Court of Appeals is another step toward justice in State v. Purk," Tama County Attorney Brent Heeren said in a statement to The News-Herald on Nov. 12.

"The Okonski family is grateful and deeply appreciative of the efforts of the Iowa State Attorney General in convincing the appellate court to affirm the conviction.

"Cora's family will never forget the time, expense, and dedication put into the investigation by the Iowa State DCI, the Tama Police Department, and the Office of the Tama County Sheriff during the nearly two decade investigation and two "back to back" trials, Heeren continued."Cora's son, Austin, is now an adult and he said "Thank you to everyone who helped.""

Tait Purk's Side

At the time of sentencing, given the opportunity to address the court, Purk launched into a detailed denial of the case brought against him. He accused his defense attorneys, Scott Hunter and Aaron Siebrect of not following his directions at times.

"I loved Cora, I missed her," Tait Otis Purk told Judge Ian K. Thornhill and about a dozen persons in the Tama County District Courtroom in Toledo at his sentencing.

Referring to an apparent list on his defense table, Purk said he had "32 witnesses" he wanted the defense to call which the attorneys declined to do.

"I did everything I was supposed to do," he recounted of the days following the disappearance of Okonski. He said he reported her missing and cared for her son, Austin.

He charged prosecution witnesses Chad Rogers and Sean Michael Ward were not credible. He said Ward, who testified he was told by Purk he had "choke-slammed Okonski" resulting in her death while both were federal prisoners at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. Purk told the court on Thursday Ward had probably read a copy of the local paper (Tama News-Herald or Toledo Chronicle) in his (Purk's) cell because he subscribed and the case was followed with a "Where is Cora Ann" " theme on occasion.

Purk said he would have never admitted to another prisoner if he had been responsible for Okonski's death.

He said they did have a good relationship.

He also took issue with the testimony which claimed he had dug a hole "so deep to bury Cora Ann's body he had to build steps to get out."

"It took 17 years to charge me," Purk said in referring to Department of Criminal investigation and local law enforcement handling of the case.



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