PICKENS, S.C. – A Tennessee man who raped and strangled a South Carolina college student with her own bikini top was sentenced to death Wednesday, hours after he told a judge he deserved to die because he was too violent to be rehabilitated in prison.
Jerry Buck Inman, 38, showed no reaction when Circuit Court Judge Edward Miller said he should die for the murder of Tiffany Marie Souers, a crime the judge called "savage, brutal and unconscionable." Inman apologized to the slain woman's family after the sentence was read, though no relatives were in the courtroom.
"There is no excuse for any of the things I've done. There's nothing I can say that will ease any of the pain I've caused them. I'm just sorry for taking their daughter and their sister away from them," he said.
Inman's attorneys had argued their client should receive life in prison because he suffers from psychological problems and feels extreme guilt for his crimes. But Inman asked for the death sentence, which is carried out by either lethal injection or the electric chair in South Carolina.
"I've shown by my actions both in and out of prison that I cannot be rehabilitated," Inman told the judge earlier Wednesday. "I don't say any of this to be disrespectful, but your honor, in all reality, there's really only one sentence appropriate for someone like me, and I ask you to impose that sentence."
Inman pleaded guilty last year to murdering and raping Souers in May 2006. The body of the 20-year-old Clemson University engineering student from Ladue, Mo., was found in her apartment near campus, the striped bikini top used to strangle her still wound around her neck.
A message left at the Souers' home near St. Louis was not immediately returned.
Inman's comments Wednesday marked the first time the sex offender from Dandridge, Tenn., has addressed the court, and his statements mirrored arguments made by prosecutors.
"There are mean and evil people in this world who do not deserve to continue to live with the rest of us, regardless of how confined they may be," Solicitor Bob Ariail told Miller in his closing statement.
Under South Carolina law, those who plead guilty are sentenced by judges.
In his brief closing, defense attorney Jim Bannister argued life in prison would be more punishing. Inman feels extreme guilt for his crimes, and sex offenders are harshly treated by other prisoners, he said.
"He lives under this burden, under the murder that he committed, the things that he's done," Bannister said, adding that Inman attempted suicide seven times during 19 years in prison.
Earlier in the day, a social worker testified that Inman had been repeatedly abused by his father since he was 3 and struggled with mental health problems. Inman's stepfather also took the stand briefly, tearfully telling the judge he and his wife love Inman very much.
Both Inman's attorneys and his relatives declined to comment after the hearing. Ariail told reporters he was satisfied with the judge's decision.
"You never want to ask anybody to impose the death penalty," Ariail said. "But it is the verdict we thought was appropriate."
A habitual criminal, Inman spent years in prison for rapes he committed as a teenager in North Carolina and Florida and is a registered sex offender. He had been free from prison for about nine months before Souers' death.
Inman also faces charges in an attempted rape in Alabama and a rape in Tennessee that authorities have said occurred in the days before Souers' death.