Sentencing Begins for Clemson Bikini Strangler; Defense Says Life Harder Than Death

A convicted sex offender facing execution for raping and strangling a Clemson University student feels so guilty for his crimes that life in prison would be harder on him, his lawyer argued in a South Carolina court on Monday.

Jerry Buck Inman, 37, of Tennessee, pleaded guilty last month to murdering 20-year-old engineering student Tiffany Marie Souers in May 2006 in her apartment about three miles from the South Carolina college's campus. A judge will decide whether Inman is executed or sentenced to life in prison.

"He is filled with guilt and shame," Inman's attorney Jim Bannister said. "That eats him from the inside out on a daily basis. ... It leads him to the conclusion that he is an animal and that he deserves to die."

But Bannister argued during the first day of the sentencing hearing that his client should not be executed. He said Inman "came into this world impaired to start with," living in a home where his father molested him and his mother suffered from mental illness.

"What is it about a man's background that could put him in a position to be capable of such a horrendous and unthinkable crime?" Bannister asked Circuit Court Judge Edward Miller, who will decide Inman's fate.

Inman spent 18 years in prison for rapes he committed as a teenager in North Carolina and Florida and is a registered sex offender in both states. He had been free for about nine months before his arrest in Souers' death.

Defense attorneys had argued that Inman should be sentenced by a jury, but Miller ruled that was not allowed under law in South Carolina, where those who plead guilty are sentenced by judges.

In afternoon testimony, one of the women Inman was convicted of raping took the stand, describing how a 17-year-old Inman broke into her Tampa apartment and assaulted her in 1987.

Dozens packed one side of the courtroom Monday, many in Clemson's school colors of orange and purple. Souers' parents, Jim and Bren Souers, sat just behind the prosecutors' table, dabbing their eyes and crying.

When Inman pleaded guilty to rape and murder, he confirmed everything in handwritten confessions he gave to police shortly after his June 2006 arrest for Souers' death.

"I did not go there to kill her. I don't want to talk about the sex part, but I did have sex with her," he wrote, saying he killed Souers because he knew she would recognize him.

He said he bound and strangled her and that he "knew Tiffany was dead because she stopped struggling."

When Souers, of Ladue, Mo., was found, the bikini top used to strangle her was still around her neck.

Inman also faces charges in an attempted rape in Alabama and rape in Tennessee. Authorities have said those crimes occurred in the days leading up to Souers' death, and the victims identified Inman from his tattoos. Attorneys have said they expect the sentencing hearing to last several days.

Click here for photos.