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Serial rapist James Biela sentenced to death

A jury has sentenced a man to death for raping and killing a college student after sexually assaulting two others in a string of attacks that had the Nevada city of Reno on edge for most of 2008.

The same jury that convicted James Biela, 28, last week deliberated for about nine hours before reaching a unanimous verdict to execute him by lethal injection for the 2008 rape and strangulation of Brianna Denison, 19.

Her family members burst into tears and Biela stared straight ahead as the sentence was read aloud in Washoe County District Court. Biela's sentence will automatically go to Nevada Supreme Court for an appeal.

The pipe fitter and ex-marine apologised on Wednesday, saying he regretted that he would not be able to see his son grow up. His public defenders urged the seven women and five men of the jury to consider that he had no previous criminal record and had been abused growing up in poverty in the Chicago area.

But Miss Denison's family and Washoe County prosecutors called death the only appropriate penalty for the murder in January 2008 during a series of assaults that began months before on the edge of the campus of the University of Nevada in Reno.

"It sickens me to know my poor baby girl was with you the last moments of her life," Bridgette Denison, the victim's mother, told Biela.

"I know that James Biela is asking for mercy. I do not believe he deserves any mercy."

Deputy district attorney Elliott Sattler said he agreed with public defenders who said the death penalty should be reserved for the "worst of the worst". But he said Biela was in that category because he strangled Miss Denison with thong underwear.

Detectives hunting the serial rapist, who stalked petite women and had a fetish for thongs, said two other assault victims reported their assailant took their underwear during attacks at or near the university in the autumn of 2007.

Miss Denison, a student at California's Santa Barbara City College, was home visiting friends during winter break when she was abducted January 20, 2008, while sleeping on a friend's couch near the campus.

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