Purk denies killing Okonski

MARENGO — Tait Otis Purk took the stand Monday in Iowa District Court in Marengo repeatedly denying killing his fiance, Cora Ann Okonski in the year 2000. Testimony wrapped up shortly after 3 p.m. Monday in the trial which began with jury selection on May 1.

Closing arguments were set by presiding Judge Mitchell E. Turner for 10 a.m. this morning. The case is then expected to go the 12-member jury and two alternates.

Purk was indicted by a Tama County Grand Jury on a charge of 1st degree murder on Dec. 2, 2016. Okonski vanished from Tama on Palm Sunday, April 16, 2000. The case was moved to Marengo on a change of venue from Tama County.

In questioning by defense attorney Scott Hunter, Monday afternoon, Purk, 50, told of watching “through the bay window” of the home Okonski, her two-year-old son and he shared on East as she went up 5th street to a grocery store to buy cigarettes. He testified that was the last time he ever saw her.

Through more than hour of testimony and cross-examination, Purk maintained he had searched for Okonski, then age 23, on the following days of her disappearance, Monday and Tuesday, and filed a missing persons report as directed by police on Wednesday.

He testified going to five residences in Tama on Monday and one in Toledo looking for her.

Purk testified he believed Okonski’s ex-boyfriend and the father of her child, James Lambert is responsible for her disappearance.

Under cross examination ay Assistant Iowa Attorney General Laura Roan, Purk said Okonski and he had gone to Chicago in 1999 so he could confront Lambert about a series of telephone calls Purk had received from Lambert.

Lambert first introduced Purk and Okonski, Purk testified.

Also called by defense attorney Aaron Siebrecht to testify Monday afternoon was Dennis Marcussen, a federal prisoner now held at Ft. Worth, Texas.

Marcussen testified under questioning by defense attorney he had been Purk’s cellmate when they were both being held at the federal prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. He denied Purk had ever admitted to killing Okonski.

He testified Purk and he had a “very good relationship” and were cellmates two or three times.

Marcussen also discounted previous testimony by another federal inmate, Sean Michael Ward, who said Purk had told him how he killed Okonski using a “choke-slam” hold and how be buried her in a deep grave at a state park or game reserve.

During his testimony, Purk denied ever physically abusing Okonski although admitting they had arguments.

He said he believed at the time their problems stemmed from her drug use but may have been due to mental illness he learned later.

Following Monday testimony, Hunter, one of the defense attorneys, asked for a directed verdict of dismissal which was denied by Judge Turner. Hunter said the state had failed to prove Okonski had died and termed “outlandish” evidence presented in the case.

Okonskis’ parents and Pa number of Purk’s family members and friends were present Monday for the testimony.

rial to last up to six days.

The cold case was reopened by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, Tama County Attorney and Iowa Attorney General’s offices, Tama County Sheriff’s Office and Tama Police in 2015.

Purk has been serving a federal prison term on gun and drug charges.