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New judge assigned for Tait Purk murder trial


October 13, 2017
By John Speer - Editor ( , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

UPDATE----- District Court Judge Ian K. Thornhill has been assigned to replace Judge Mitchell E. Turner in the Tait Otis Purk murder trial. An order by 6th Judicial District Chief Judge Patrick R. Grady making assigning the change was filed on Thursday Oct. 12. Judge Thornhill is also one of four judges forwarded by U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst on Thursday To President Trump to fill a federal District court vacancy in the Northern District of Iowa in Cedar Rapids. Judge Turner has recused himself from the Tait Purk murder trial. His action apparently came during a telephone conference call with prosecutors and defense attorneys on Wednesday, Oct. 11. Tama County Attorney Brent Heeren had filed a motion for Judge Turner's replacement in the case on Monday. (SEE EARLIER STORY BELOW.)

On Monday, Oct. 9, Tama County Attorney Brent Heeren asked for District Court Judge Mitchell E. Turner to be removed as the presiding judge in the Tait Otis Purk murder re-trial.

And the Tama County Sheriff's Office has issued an appeal for information which could involve the investigation into the disappearance of Cora Ann Okonski in Tama in 2000 and the subsequent murder charge filed last year against Purk. (See separate story)

Purk, 51, was convicted by an Iowa County Jury of 1st degree murder in May of this year. Judge Turner, who oversaw the case, threw out the conviction and ordered a new trial which is set for November in Tama County District Court in Toledo.

Purk waive his right ot a jury trial and will be tried before a judge.

Heeren, in a seven-page motion, sought to have Turner off the case alleging "prejudice exists on the part of Judge Turner."

Among arguments in the motion, Heeren charges Judge Turner showed he believed law enforcement did not spend enough time investigating James Lambert, the father of Okonski's child, in relation to the disappearance; the judge believes "the prosecution used some form of trickery to secure the introduction of evidence;" found two witnesses, Chad Rogers who testified Purk "admitted killing a former girlfriend not collaborated and Sean Ward, who testified Purk admitted killing Okonski, "not credible" after the verdict; and because Okonski's body has never been located gives "reasonable grounds to find the testimony of witnesses for the State as "not credible."

The disappearance of Okonski in mid-April of 2000 was subject to investigation by Tama Police, the Tama County Sheriff's Iowa Division of Criminal investigation and local and state attorney offices.

It was reopened in 2015 by the DCI, state and local law enforcement and prosecutors.

A Tama County Grand Jury then indicted Purk in December of last year on the murder charge.

Following the 10-day trial in Marengo in May Judge turner heard arguments for a new trial in July and made the ruling for the new trial in August.



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