PICKENS, S.C. — Lawyers for a man who confessed he raped and strangled a South Carolina college student asked a judge for a mistrial Monday, arguing prosecutors harassed and intimidated a witness the defense hired to discuss their client's troubled past.
During arguments nearly three years after the slaying, defense attorney Jim Bannister said the prosecutor should be excused from the hearing that will determine whether Jerry Buck Inman receives life in prison or the death penalty. He also asked the judge to declare the sentencing phase a mistrial.
Solicitor Bob Ariail is seeking the death penalty for Inman, who pleaded guilty to killing Tiffany Souers in May 2006. The body of the 20-year-old Clemson University engineering student from Ladue was found in her apartment near campus, the striped bikini top used to strangle her still wound around her neck.
Under South Carolina law, those who plead guilty are sentenced by judges. 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 the guilt he feels.
Judge Edward Miller denied Bannister's motion to excuse the prosecutor but did not immediately rule on his motion for a mistrial. Testimony was scheduled to resume Tuesday morning.
Monday's debate centered around whether prosecutors had intimidated an expert witness hired by the defense to put together a chronology of their client's troubled history and mental health struggles. The defense has said that Inman was sexually abused by his father and suffers from severe psychological disorders.
Inman's sentencing hearing began in September, but testimony was halted when Ariail told Atlanta-based expert Marti Loring she could face prosecution for practicing social work without a license. Miller called off the hearing to give defense attorneys time to find another expert.
On Monday, Loring's attorney said his client was again harassed last week when prosecutors delivered subpoenas to her Atlanta home, threatening to arrest her if she did not return for the hearing this week in the Pickens County courthouse. Loring testified Monday that she was alarmed by the process but was prepared to testify on Inman's behalf if necessary.
"I believe the solicitor has intimidated Dr. Loring and threatened her to chill her testimony in this case," her attorney, Everett Godfrey, told the court.
Inman, wearing a white dress shirt, blue jeans and white sneakers, sat in the courtroom Monday flanked by his attorneys. He has not taken the stand in his own defense.
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. Both women testified that they identified Inman as their attacker after seeing his face on television during coverage of Souers' death.
Inman spent 18 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 for about nine months before his arrest in Souers' death.
When Inman pleaded guilty to rape and murder, he confirmed everything in handwritten confessions shortly after his June 2006 arrest.
"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.