Purk sentenced to 50 years
TOLEDO — “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 during his sentencing on a charge of second-degree murder this week. He was convicted of killing of his fiance, Cora Ann Okonski more than 17 years ago in Tama and then burying her body.
Judge Thornhill sentenced Purk to the mandatory 50 years in prison. The judge had found Purk guilty following a four-day trial in November.
Okonski, then age 23, vanished from Tama on April 16, 2000 and she nor her body have never been located.
The court also heard a victim impact statement given by Deb Calvert, the adoptive mother of Okonski’s son, Austin.
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.
Referring to an apparent list of them on the 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 prisoner 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 had been responsible for Okonski’s death.
Purk admitted Okonski might not now still be alive and referred to her “lifestyle choices.” He said he had come to realize he could not be responsible for how she chose to live.
He said they did ave 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.
In recalling the night he says Okonski disappeared he said, “I haven’t been in Tama in 17 years, but if the windows (in the home the couple shared on East 5th Street) I could see her walk kitty corner across 5th Street and see her down the street …” Purk has maintained Okonski borrowed “five or six or seven dollars” from his wallet on a table, left the home to buy cigarettes and never returned.
Purk said he was “surprised” when Judge Mitchell E. Turner threw out his earlier conviction of first-degree murder by an Iowa County jury. He said he was prepare to “begin the appeal process then.”
“This is just a miscarriage of justice,” he repeated to the court.
Judge Thornhill interrupted Purl to call a halt to his statement after hearing his claim of innocence for some time.
Prosecutors Assistant Iowa Attorney General Laura Roan and Tama County Attorney Brent Heeren said they were satisfied with the sentence.
Calvert, a cousin of Cora Ann Okonski, told the court that with her husband, Kinley, the couple had adopted and raised Okonski’s son “since he was 19 months old and is now 19.” She spoke in some detail of the troubled life Austin has led.
She said she hoped the verdict and sentence would bring some closure for the family which has not known for 17 years what happened to Cora. She also called for the knowledge of the whereabouts of Cora Ann Okonski’s body so family members could pay the proper respect.
Judge Thornhill said in his finding of guilt issued on Dec. 6 he the witness testimony was corroborated.
“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 on Friday.
He also found he testimony Purk buried the body in a state park credible. He did rule, however, there was not enough evidence for a first-degree conviction murder conviction.
“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.