Two men out of control

It seems even fate is working with furloughs these days. With no time to spare at April’s end, justice was efficient this week in Upstate South Carolina. Rather than draw out judicial proceedings for a couple of men, it took care of them expeditiously in one afternoon.

It’s impossible to compare the two crimes. Jerry Buck Inman is the very picture of horror: a bald, backwoods, steel-eyed killer. Tony Trout is a big, businesslike smooth-talker who you’d you’d be comfortable sitting next to at a bar. Inman, a lifelong criminal, sated his troubled brain with violent sex and death. Trout, a former cop and Greenville County Councilman, comforted himself with a warped sense of do-right that landed him in the hands of federal authorities. Both men will likely end up in prison before it’s all said and done.

inmanIf you’re a longtime reader here, you know about Inman. He strangled Clemson co-ed Tiffany Souers to death with her own bikini. He never denied it. He never wanted a trial, never wanted a social worker to testify in his defense, and never put up any sort of fight. He knew if he got caught, he would try to escape.

Inman knows the only way to keep him from killing again is to kill him. He asked for the death sentence and never wavered. He is an animal and the only exception to the definition is that he knows he is an animal.

Trout is not an animal in any way other than his surname. He’s educated, driven, and got himself elected to office on a reform platform. I covered the guy during his election and had many on and off the record conversations with him. I found him likable, honest, and fair. That he wanted to shake up the good ol’ boy network only made him a better candidate. Once in office, however, Trout lost his way. His crimes never made the national news, but for all the intrigue involved, it could’ve made for a great pulp story.

tony-troutTrout believed the County Council was in cahoots with a lot of nefarious characters. He purchased some e-mail spyware and, depending on who you believe, either accidentally or on purpose installed it on County Administrator Joe Kernell’s government computer. Well, lo and behold, Trout hit political pay dirt. This particular page on Trout’s website details it all and gives you a lot of insight into how Trout’s mind was working. If you don’t want to take the time to wade through it all, Trout basically busted Kernell for using his government computer to communicate with escorts and other not-so-nice girls. It was salacious, tawdry, and the stuff of good newsprint, but not necessarily the smoking gun on country road contracts Trout was seeking. Nonetheless, Trout went on the offensive and started passing the material out everywhere, not realizing the that his activities were federal crimes. The virtual wiretapping ended up getting him arrested, tried, and convicted.

Yesterday, a judge granted Inman’s request and sentenced the killer to death. Around the same time, a federal jury was finding Trout guilty on four out of five charges. Inman will die at Broad River. A judge will sentence Trout before the Fourth of July. The crimes are so different, it’s almost unfair to put them on the same page. They two men are incomparable in almost every way. Still, having spent so much time studying both cases, it’s impossible to ignore how reason failed both men. Inman and Trout, the lawless and the lawmaker, both found themselves in illogical maelstroms that resulted in them doing things that make no sense to reasonable people.

You and I take reason for granted. We make decisions based on clear logic and if we feel like we might be failing, we ask the reasonable people around us for advice. If we stray, we count on our reasonable friends and family to help set us straight. We may not always be right, but we know we are listening to our system of checks and balances. Trout, evidently, did not do any of the above. In the face of all things reasonable, Trout continued to believe he was on a noble quest. Even when everyone around him told him to give it a rest, he kept on talking to the media, maintaining his website, and playing the role of crusader. His crusade means he will likely be forced into prison, leaving his family behind to fend for themselves.

What’s rather telling about the two cases is that Inman knew he was acting without reason. Inman knew he was no more than an atavistic predator and that it would take a reasonable man with a gun to finally put him down. Trout, for his part, has never believed he was wrong. Just take the headlines in the Greenville News this morning:

  • Inman may waive appeal of death sentence
  • Trout likely to appeal convictions
  • The take away here is that the very thing that makes man successful–his never say die approach to the universe–is sometimes the very thing that can ruin him. Animals usually know when they’re beat and will accept the inevitable end. Inman may actually be luckier than Trout in this respect. That is, he may be luckier to be a logical animal who has accepted his demise than a blind man who believes he’s walking a righteous path when, all along, he’s been sprinting toward insanity.

    And there but for the grace…

    Photos courtesy GreenvilleOnline

    Brad Willis

    Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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    1 Response

    1. Da Goddess says:

      Good job weaving these stories together. Only you could do so with such style.

      Now I’ll have to follow their cases to see what becomes of them.