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Purk guilty of second degree murder

December 15, 2017
John Speer - Central Iowa Press , Dysart Reporter

Tait Otis Purk, 51, has been found guilty of 2nd degree murder in the 2000 death of his fiance, Cora Ann Okonski, then age 23, of Tama. Tama County District Court Judge Ian K. Thornhill announced his verdict in a court hearing Friday afternoon, Dec. 8. The verdict came after a four-day trial before the judge Nov. 6-9.

Purk said mostly expressionless during he reading of the court findings and verdict with his attorney Scott Hunter. His second defense attorney, Aaron Siebrecht, was in trial proceedings in another court case.

Sentencing was set for Feb. 1 in Tama County District Court in Toledo. Hunter, Purk's defense attorneys, did not immediately say if the verdict would be appealed.

"The evidence presented at trial establishes beyond a reasonable doubt defendant committed the offense of Murder in the Second Degree on April 16, 2000, in killing Cora Okonski," Judge Thornhill said in his ruling.

Purk had been found guilty in May of this year of 1st degree murder in the death by an Iowa County Grand Jury but the verdict was thrown out by presiding Judge Mitchell E. Turner. Among issues Judge Turner found a lack of corroboration of witness testimony for the prosecution.

Judge Turner then recused himself from further proceedings in the case.

Judge Thornhill said he found the witness testimony was corroborated in his finding.

"On the evening of April 16, 2000, in their shared residence in Tama, Tama County, Iowa, Defendant grabbed, choked, and then slammed Cora Okonski's head into the floor; Cora Okonski died as a result of being grabbed, choked, and slammed into the floor by Defendant; and Defendant killed Cora Okonski with malice and forethought," Judge Thornhill said in his finding announced Friday. He also found he tr4stimony Purk buried the body in a state park credible.

He did rule there was not enough evidence for a 1st degree murder conviction which was sought by Tama County Attorney Brent Heeren and Assistant Iowa Attorney General Laura Roan.

"The Court finds insufficient evidence for it to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant acted willfully, deliberately, premeditatedly and with a specific intent in killing Cora Okonski," Thornhill wrote in the ruling.

Judge Thornhill rejected defense claims Okonski was likely still alive - "Regarding the failure of the State to locate Ms. Okonski's body, this fact is not dispositive and does not prevent the Court from finding beyond a reasonable doubt Ms. Okonski is dead."

Purk was being returned to the Iowa State Penitentiary at Anamosa where he had been held following he trial.

Purk was indicted for Murder in the First Degree by a Tama County Grand Jury on December 2nd, 2016 for killing his fiance Cora Okonski on Palm Sunday, April 16, 2000.

After over a decade of investigation by local law enforcement; a Division of Criminal Investigation "cold case team" assisted in building a murder case against Tait Purk.

The Tama Police Department, Tama County Sheriff's Office, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, Tama County Attorney and Iowa Attorney General's Office all aided in the investigation.



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