Sentencing to resume for rape, murder of St. Louis girl

Friday, April 17, 2009 | 2:28 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — As the third anniversary of Tiffany Souers' death approaches, sentencing for the man who confessed to raping and strangling a South Carolina college student in her off-campus apartment is set to resume Monday.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Jerry Buck Inman, who last year pleaded guilty to raping and killing Souers in May 2006. The body of the 20-year-old engineering student from Ladue was found in her apartment several miles from Clemson University, the striped bikini top used to strangle her still wound tightly around her neck.

Her parents, Jim and Bren Souers, had traveled in September from their home near St. Louis to hear attorneys for both sides present arguments to a judge who must decide if the Tennessee man gets the death penalty or life in prison. Several witnesses testified for the prosecution, including two of Tiffany Souers' former Clemson roommates, who fought through tears to describe a friend with a generous heart who always did what she could to help others.

But on the fourth day of testimony, Circuit Judge Edward Miller granted defense attorneys a delay after their expert witness refused to testify. The Atlanta social worker, who said she was not licensed to do social work in South Carolina, told the court she was afraid to testify after the solicitor warned her that she could be prosecuted for practicing without a license.

Miller gave defense attorneys more time to find a new expert. Sentencing had been scheduled to resume earlier this year, but one of Inman's attorneys needed surgery.

Inman's attorneys have argued the 38-year-old sex offender should get life in prison, which they said would be worse than death for him because of his severe guilt. During September's hearing, a forensic pathologist testified Inman suffers from a sex obsession and severe psychological disorders that can be traced to his childhood, when he was raised by a mother suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and a father who sexually abused him.

A national prisons expert also testified that Inman would likely be killed in prison if he were allowed to mix with other inmates because of his multiple sex-related convictions and a swastika tattoo on his arm.

Inman served 18 years for rapes in North Carolina and Florida and is a registered sex offender in both states. He was free for about nine months before his arrest in Souers' death. He also faces charges in an attempted rape in Alabama and a rape in Tennessee that authorities have said occurred in the days leading up to Souers' death.

When Inman pleaded guilty to Souers' rape and murder, he confirmed everything in handwritten confessions he gave to police shortly after his June 2006 arrest. He said he bound and strangled Souers and "knew Tiffany was dead because she stopped struggling."

A wide-ranging gag order in place since 2006 prevents attorneys, law enforcement officers and Souers' family from discussing the case.

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