COLUMBIA — State Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal suggested Wednesday that the appeal of a man on death row for raping and strangling a Clemson University student could be used as a warning to South Carolina prosecutors who ignore fairness and take what she called a “win at all costs” approach.
Jerry Buck Inman is appealing his conviction and sentence, saying the man who prosecuted his case should have been removed because he intentionally intimidated a witness testifying on his behalf.
The 40-year-old convicted sex offender confessed to killing 20-year-old Tiffany Souers in 2006 and pleaded guilty to murder. A judge then heard evidence about whether Inman should get a life sentence or the death penalty.
The defense had hired a social worker to testify about Inman’s mental illness and troubled childhood. But during questioning about her credentials, Solicitor Bob Ariail told the social worker she was testifying without a proper license in South Carolina and suggested she could face charges for practicing without a license.
Toal said the court has made it clear South Carolina will accept out-of-state licenses, and called Ariail’s questioning a bullying tactic and an attempt to “scare the very life out of this witness.”
“This court is deeply concerned with this win at all costs attitude among some of the state’s solicitors,” Toal said. “How can we get that message out?”
But she added that given Inman’s confession and the heinousness of the crime, she isn’t sure overturning his death sentence is the way to send the message. Toal and the other justices didn’t rule immediately, but likely will issue an opinion in several months.
Inman called himself an animal, according to investigators, and he asked for the death penalty immediately after he was arrested and again in court as his fate was being decided. Several justices agreed this was the kind of case for which the death penalty was intended.
“We want to know what, short of reversing this case, can we do to send the message that this conduct is out of bounds,” Toal said.
The state Supreme Court has dealt several times with prosecutors who crossed the lines of fairness in pursuit of a death sentence. In 2000, the court overturned the death sentence of David McClure for killing his father and his girlfriend in Barnwell County because then-Solicitor Barbara Morgan sat in the witness chair and suggested McClure had no remorse for the crime because he did not testify.