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 murdering 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. His sentence will be automatically appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court.
"These crimes were acts of domestic violence against our community," Bridgette Denison, her mother, said after Wednesday's sentencing.
"When James Michael Biela messed with my little girl, he messed with the wrong families, the wrong women, and the wrong city and state."
As Biela was handcuffed and led away by a court marshal, he turned and apologized to his mother, Kathy Lovell.
"He said `Don't cry.' He said he loved us,'" Lovell told reporters later. "We were so hopeful when it was taking so long. I thought for sure they were going to spare his life."
The pipe fitter and ex-Marine from Sparks apologized in court Tuesday, 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 grew up in an abusive, impoverished home in the Chicago area where his father brutally beat his mother on almost a daily basis.
But Denison's family and Washoe County prosecutors called death the only appropriate penalty for Denison's slaying in January 2008 during a series of assaults that began months before on the edge of the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno.
Detectives said the slaying was the work of a serial rapist who stalked petite women and had a fetish for thongs. The two other assault victims said their assailant took their panties during attacks at or near UNR in the fall of 2007.
Judge Robert Perry set sentencing for July 30 on other charges stemming from the Denison slaying and the sexual assault of two other young women.
Denison, a sophomore at California's Santa Barbara City College, was home visiting friends during winter break when she was abducted Jan. 20, 2008, while sleeping on a friend's couch near the UNR campus.
Her body, clad only in socks, was found in a field 26 days later, beneath a discarded Christmas tree along with two pair of women's thong underwear. Police determined one undergarment had been stolen from Denison's friend and was used to strangle Denison.
Denison's family and friends tied blue ribbons around fence posts and trees, and police reported receiving thousands of tips and calls to an anonymous hot line.
"It started probably one of the most massive manhunts I've ever seen for a missing person in this community," Washoe County District Attorney Gammick said Wednesday. "It also created a fear in this community that spread, especially around the university.
"Nothing we do here can bring Brianna Denison back, but I think I can stand here now and say we did bring Bri justice," he said.
Biela was arrested in November 2008 when he went to pick his son up at preschool.
Police said he was identified through DNA compared with samples that Biela's ex-girlfriend let police obtain from their son.
Bridgette Denison said the family will use the foundation they created during the search for her killer to press the Nevada Legislature next year to pass "Brianna's Law" requiring all suspects arrested for felonies to submit to DNA testing.
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 fit that category because he strangled Denison with thong underwear he stole from her friend.
"He killed her in a sick and sadistic way that was directly tied into what he had done earlier," Sattler said in his closing arguments.
Liz O'Brien, Biela's aunt, said in a statement on behalf of the family that their hearts went out to everyone involved in the tragedy that has "robbed several families of their children and grandchildren and a son of his father."
"We pray for forgiveness where forgiveness is needed," she said. "We also pray that God will ultimately bring something good out of this whole situation."