Scissors
Tony Deval Ledbetter used scissors to cut off his ex-girlfriend's nipples while she was unconscious. Flickr/James Bowe

A man who cut off his pregnant ex-girlfriend's nipples has been jailed for 45 years, the maximum sentence possible. Addressing him in court, his victim asked: "Do you feel like a man?"

Tony Deval Ledbetter, 46, admitted three counts of aggravated assault for choking and strangling his ex-girlfriend and using scissors to cut her nipples in August. He was sentenced at South Dakota court.

The brave survivor gave an emotional statement in court, explaining what happened and how Ledbetter's actions affected her both emotionally and physically.

She said: "Because I was strong enough to say, 'Enough is enough,' I almost paid the ultimate price. I was nearly killed for what? Asking for my space?" First Coast News reported.

"He told me he was a nice guy. Nice guys don't do this." Addressing Ledbetter directly in court, she asked: "Do you feel like a man?"

The victim was pregnant with Ledbetter's child at the time of the attack and said he knew she had wished to breastfeed. The unborn baby was thankfully unharmed during the incident.

The assault took place at her apartment when they began arguing about their relationship. Ledbetter punched and slammed her head on the ground, police said, before trying to stop her from screaming by pushing on her throat with his forearm and stuffing a blanket into her mouth.

While she was unconscious, Ledbetter cut off one of her nipples with a pair of scissors. She awoke as he cut the other breast, then managed to break free and immediately attended hospital.

Ledbetter was arrested in October 2016 and admitted the assault, but initially told police it was self-defence. In his own statement, read to the court, Ledbetter said: "I apologize to the court and to (the victim). I don't believe in violence. ... It's hard to fathom this happened. It will never happen again. I don't seek violence."