Public Safety

Sentencing for Tait Purk, convicted of killing fiancee, reset to Aug. 11

Defense lawyers asking court for new trial

Tait Purk is pictured on May 3 during his murder trial at the Iowa County Courthouse in Marengo. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gaze
Tait Purk is pictured on May 3 during his murder trial at the Iowa County Courthouse in Marengo. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Sentencing for Tait Purk, convicted by an Iowa County jury for killing his fiancee in 2000, has been reset to Aug. 11 in Tama County District Court.

6th Judicial District Judge Mitchell Turner reset the sentencing, previously set for Friday, court documents show. He hasn’t ruled on the defense’s motion for new trial, which may be reason for the delay.

Purk’s lawyers have asked the court for a new trial, arguing there was lack of evidence, unfair prejudice and possibly jury misconduct during the trial.

An Iowa County jury found Purk, 50, guilty of first-degree murder in May for killing Cora Okonski, 23, of Tama, on April 16, 2000. The trial was moved from Tama based on pretrial publicity. Although Okonski’s body was never found, prosecutors argued, based on witness testimony, that Purk buried her body in a remote area.    

The defense argued at trial there was no evidence to suggest Okonski was even dead, since a body was never found.

His lawyers also argued the jury may have unfairly judged Purk because of testimony regarding prior “bad acts,” such as offenses of domestic violence, burglary, stealing a vehicle and selling drugs.

The defense also pointed out two of the witnesses were “jailhouse snitches” who are felons under the belief that they would benefit from their testimony.

During trial, two inmates who had been in federal prison and a halfway house with Purk provided details of how Purk killed Okonski by “choke slamming” her and breaking her neck. The inmates said Purk gave them those details.  

Tama County Attorney Brent Heeren, in resisting a new trial, said there wasn’t specific “factual allegations” to support jury misconduct. He said the defense disputes the facts of the case and that’s why it goes to a jury. In this case, the jury reviewed all the evidence and made a decision, he said.

Heeren argued the testimony of witnesses showed premeditation and two witnesses said Purk confessed the crime to them. All the statements corroborate each other when taken together, he added.

For years, Okonski’s disappearance was treated as a missing persons case until investigators took another look in 2015 and ultimately charged Purk with first-degree murder in December 2016.

Purk, before being charged in this case, already was serving time in a federal prison in Kansas for manufacturing methamphetamine and a firearms violation.

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