MARENGO — A jury Wednesday found Tait Purk guilty of first-degree murder in the death of fiancee Cora Okonski in April 2000.
As the verdict was read in an Iowa County District courtroom, Purk, 50, looked straight ahead and showed little reaction. His family members in the courtroom were visibly upset.
Purk faces life in prison without parole. Sentencing is set for July 10 in Iowa County District Court. The trial was moved from Tama County because of pretrial publicity.
The jury deliberated about 4 1/2 hours before reaching a verdict following a seven-day trial.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Mitchell Turner polled the jurors, seven women and five men, and all reaffirmed their verdict for the record.
Okonski’s parents, Jerome and Cecelia Okonski, and her brother, Jeff, said they were relieved after hearing the guilty verdict.
“Nothing will bring back Cora ...,” Jerome Okonski said. “Cora was a good girl. She had some mental health problems, but she had a wonderful disposition. The end result here is that they got a bad guy off the streets today, who can’t hurt anyone else.”
“The evidence was there,” Assistant Iowa Attorney General Laura Roan said after verdict. “We knew the jury would hear evidence that he had confessed the same thing to two different individuals about the manner of death and how he disposed of the body. His sole purpose was that she would never be found and he would get away with murder.”
Tama County Attorney Brent Heeran said the case “got better as time went on because he confessed to others.”
Roan and Heeran credited the Tama County Sheriff’s Office and Tama Police Department for their work and decision to request help from Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation cold case agents in 2015. The case, which was a missing person case, was reopened as a homicide investigation. Purk was indicted in December.
“It pulled everything together and got us to this verdict,” Roan said.
Scott Hunter, Purk’s lawyer, declined to comment after the hearing.
Evidence at trial showed Purk killed Okonski, 23, during an argument April 16, 2000, about their upcoming wedding. Purk testified he was worried about money and wanted to postpone the marriage ceremony.
The prosecution presented two witnesses who claimed Purk confessed to killing Okonski and burying her in a remote area.
Chad Rogers testified Purk told him, while both were in a halfway house, he killed his girlfriend because she was going to tell police about his involvement with a stolen truck and a store burglary.
Purk during his testimony admitted he stole the truck and broke into a convenience store, but denied killing Okonski.
Sean Ward said Purk told him in 2005, while both were in federal prison in Kansas, he grabbed Okonski by the throat and “choke slammed” her. Purk thought he had just knocked her unconscious but then realized he broke her neck.
Another witness, Ricky Jo Sanchez, said Okonski told her Purk threatened to kill her the day she went missing.
The defense argued there is no proof Purk killed Okonski or that she is even dead, since her body has never been found.
Hunter, during his closing argument, added there were no witnesses to the alleged killing.
“They are guessing, they are speculating and they are bringing in witnesses with rumors and hearsay and inconsistent statements,” Hunter said.
The defense attempted several times during the trial to incriminate Okonski’s former boyfriend and father of her son, but he was never named as a suspect in the case, nor did he testify.
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