By MEG KINNARD
COLUMBIA — The same judge who sentenced a Tennessee man to die for raping and strangling a South Carolina college student with her own bikini top has denied the convicted sex offender's request for a new trial, prosecutors said Thursday.
"With the denial of this motion, we are one step closer to having Mr. Inman's death sentence carried out," Solicitor Bob Ariail said in a news release. "And I can think of no one more deserving of that sentence than Jerry 'Buck' Inman."
The 38-year-old Inman from Dandridge, Tenn., pleaded guilty last year to raping and murdering Tiffany Marie 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.
In South Carolina, those who plead guilty to their crimes are sentenced by judges, not juries. During a sentencing hearing in April, Ariail argued that execution was the only appropriate punishment for anyone with Inman's violent past.
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 and 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.
Prior to his sentencing, Inman addressed the court for the first time, telling Circuit Court Judge Edward Miller he deserved to die because he was too violent to be rehabilitated.
"I've shown by my actions both in and out of prison that I cannot be rehabilitated," Inman told Miller. He asked for the death sentence, which is carried out by either lethal injection or the electric chair in South Carolina.
"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."
Hours later, Miller sentenced Inman to death. And on Thursday, the same judge denied Inman's request for a new trial.
Attorneys for Inman did not immediately return messages seeking comment Thursday. During sentencing proceedings, defense attorney Jim Bannister argued that life in prison would be a harsher punishment than death for his client because Inman feels extreme guilt for his crimes, and because sex offenders are harshly treated by other prisoners.
"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.