A 20-year-old Appalachian State University student testified Friday that while Daniel Brian Lee repeatedly raped her, he told her Jeni Gray ``died a slow and painful death' and ``was hard to kill.'
Lee, 23, of Triplett in Watauga County, had pleaded guilty Monday to murder and kidnapping in the Sept. 24 slaying of Gray, 27, a writer for the Appalachian News Bureau. The Avery County jury in Lee's sentencing hearing will decide whether to recommend a life prison term or the death penalty.On Friday, Lee pleaded guilty to rape, kidnapping, robbery and three counts of first-degree sex offense in the student's attack. He will be sentenced on those charges after the Gray hearing concludes. Superior Court Judge Charles Lamm Jr. told Lee he could receive four life terms plus 50 years on those charges.
The student testified for more than an hour Friday, glancing often at Lee while describing her ordeal. She told jurors she was abducted at gunpoint while jogging alone in Boone Sept. 29, five days after Gray disappeared, and later escaped when the two stopped at a gas station.
She said when she was abducted she thought, ``I was going to die.'
The student testified that Lee took her to a rural road on Jake's Mountain near Triplett and repeatedly raped her. She said Lee told her he had beat Gray in the head with a stick, kicked her in the throat several times and stood on her back and strangled her with her own sweat shirt.
A 3-foot-long stick and a sweat shirt bearing the words ``Somebody in Texas Loves Me' were presented as evidence Thursday.
District Attorney Thomas Rusher told the jurors earlier that Gray probably was struck at least four times on the head with the stick.
The stick was discovered about five feet from her body on a logging trail on a mountainside near the Triplett community Oct. 9, officers said.