Jennifer Wilson, USC professor
Jennifer Wilson, a USC professor, was killed by a man she met on an online dating site WLTX archive

Jennifer Wilson, a university professor at the University of Southern California, was stabbed to death by a man she met on internet dating site, a jury has ruled. Wilson reported feeling smothered by her unhealthy relationship to her eventual murderer Hank Hawes, who was described to be so infatuated he would "never let her go."

The couple met on an internet dating site in January 2011 and were involved in a turbulent "on-again, off-again" relationship. Hawes, 37, presented himself as a financial consultant, but his money had come from the women he dated, according to a report in the Mirror.

Hawes reportedly became obsessed with Wilson and moved to Shandon, Columbia, and rented a house five minutes away from her.

Friends testified they were worried about Wilson, saying that she wouldn't introduce them to Hawes and seemed anxious, thin, unable to sleep. Hawes wanted to be in contact constantly. One friend that she was "terrified" of him.

Diary of abuse

In one letter to Hayes, which was released during the trial, dated 11 July, Wilson wrote that she was looking for the "sweet peaceful feeling" expressed in the Book of Corinthians, in the Bible: "Love is patient, love is kind… is not easily angered." She also said she did not want to be manipulated, and that they needed to trust each other.

In a diary entry from June 2011, Wilson expresses frustration at Hawes' "demands" that he be allowed to stay over, and his attempts to "diagnose" her with diabetes, narcissism and attention deficit disorder.

A month before her death, Hayes sent a message to Wilson about them having a baby together. Wilson said they had no right to bring a baby into the world with their "stormy relationship".

Wilson tried to end the relationship several times, but Hank refused to let her go and was in touch with her constantly, sending text messages every day.

Attack and suicide attempt

At the time Hayes attacked Wilson, a neighbour called police in the early hours after hearing Wilson screaming, "No! No! No!"

When police arrived, they found Jennifer's naked body on her sofa, tucked in a duvet. Her body had been washed and her hair cleaned. One paramedic later said it was one of the worst crime scenes he'd ever seen, with blood splattered up the walls, ceilings and pooled on the floor.

An autopsy revealed Jennifer had received 12 stab wounds to her neck and upper body, and 10 slash wounds. Half of her injuries included cuts to vital organs and arteries. There were defence wounds and bruises showing she had tried to fight Hayes off.

Hawes was found in his home with blood-soaked jeans in his flat and superficial wounds to his wrists, in a suicide attempt. He was charged and held in custody.

'Crime of passion'

When Hawes went on trial in October last year, he admitted stabbing Wilson, but insisted it was in self-defence. He said he'd gone round to see her end their relationship, and she'd attacked him by biting his finger and grabbing a knife.

His lawyers described the murder as a "crime of passion" between two people who were obsessed with each other. "These two people had a passion for each other," they said. "They should have let it go and they should have moved on – but they didn't."

The jury took just 30 minutes to find Hank Hawes guilty of murder after an eight-week trial. At the sentencing, it was revealed that Hank had former convictions for domestic violence, including against his ex-wives.

Hayes was sentenced to life in prison. According to South Carolina's laws he will never be released from jail during his life.

Domestic violence

Wilson's killing is regarded as emblematic of an epidemic of violence against women. Her murder pushes South Carolina to the top in deaths by domestic violence.

Advocates said the case demonstrated that people from all walks of life are vulnerable to domestic violence. Her death defied stereotypes that domestic violence only affects people in low-income communities, as Wilson was highly educated and successful.

Wilson, a Fullbright scholar, worked at the University of Southern California for six years. Wilson was described as a 'bright star' with a fantastic future ahead. She had taught children all over the world, including Tanzania, Norway and China. "It was typical of her to give people second chances and in her nature to be kind," friends had testified at the trial.