MARENGO — Jury selection has started in the case of a former Tama man accused of killing his fiance in 2000.
Tait Otis Purk, 50, is charged with first-degree murder in the disappearance of Cora Ann Okonski, a 23-year-old mother who went missing April 16, 2000.
Okonski’s body has never been found, and Purk wasn’t charged until December 2016, about a month after the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation announced it had classified Okonski’s case as a homicide.
Purk’s trial was moved from Tama County to nearby Iowa County earlier this year because of pretrial publicity.
The Iowa County Clerk of Court called in 65 to 70 people for jury selection on Monday, and court officials interviewed prospective jurors about their knowledge of the case and media exposure.
Responses ranged from people who had passing media exposure of the case to a woman who said she had been following news of Okonski’s disappearance for years through newspapers, TV and the Iowa Cold Cases website.
The judge struck the woman from jury service in the case.
Dressed in an orange plaid shirt, Purk sat quietly and listened to the proceedings, occasionally talking with defense attorneys Aaron Siebrecht and Scott Hunter.
The case is being prosecuted by Laura Road with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office and Tama County Attorney Brent Heeren.
Okonski moved to Iowa from Illinois and planned to marry Purk. In December 1999, Purk was arrested for allegedly assaulting Okonski, but the charge was dismissed three months later.
Purk told authorities Okonski left to buy cigarettes April 16, 2000, and she never returned.
Purk was charged with firearm and meth-related charges in federal court in August 2003, and was sentenced to prison.