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Nevada jury sentences man to death by lethal injection for rape-murder of college coed in Reno

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A jury sentenced a Nevada man to death Wednesday for raping and killing a college coed after sexually assaulting two others in a string of attacks that had the city of Reno on edge for most of 2008.

The same jury that convicted James Biela, 28, last week deliberated for about nine hours before reaching a unanimous verdict to execute him by lethal injection for the 2008 rape and strangulation of Brianna Denison, 19.

Her family members burst into tears and Biela stared straight ahead as the sentence was read aloud in Washoe County District Court. Biela's sentence will be automatically appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court.

The pipe fitter and ex-Marine from Sparks apologized Tuesday, saying he regretted that he would not be able to see his son grow up. His public defenders urged the seven women and five men of the jury to consider that he had no previous criminal record and had been abused growing up in poverty in the Chicago area.

But Denison's family and Washoe County prosecutors called death the only appropriate penalty for Denison's slaying in January 2008 during a series of assaults that began months before on the edge of the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno.

"It sickens me to know my poor baby girl was with you the last moments of her life," Bridgette Denison, the victim's mother, told Biela on Tuesday. "I know that James Biela is asking for mercy. I do not believe he deserves any mercy."

Deputy District Attorney Elliott Sattler said he agreed with public defenders who said the death penalty should be reserved for the "worst of the worst."

But he said Biela fit that category because he strangled Denison with thong underwear.

Detectives called the slaying the work of a serial rapist who stalked petite women and had a fetish for thongs. The two other assault victims said their assailant took their panties during attacks at or near UNR in the fall of 2007.

Denison, a sophomore at California's Santa Barbara City College, was home visiting friends during winter break when she was abducted Jan. 20, 2008, while sleeping on a friend's couch near the UNR campus.

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