Emerson's killer charged with killing NC hikers

Photo by Mike Ewen

Photo by Mike Ewen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A drifter already sentenced to death for killing a hiker in Florida and serving a life sentence for killing Buford resident Meredith Emerson is now facing murder charges for the slaying of a North Carolina couple who prosecutors said were kidnapped from a mountain trail.

A federal grand jury indicted Gary Hilton, 64, on two counts of murder as well as kidnapping and robbery charges in the deaths of the couple last seen on a trail in the Pisgah National Forest in October 2007.

Investigators said 84-year-old Irene Bryant was beaten to death and her 80-year-old husband shot after Hilton camped on the trail waiting for victims. It was a month before Irene Bryant's body was found and four months before a hunter discovered the skeletal remains of her husband. A 911 call was made from the couple's cell phone the day they started their hike, but the signal was dropped, police said.

The next day, $300 was taken from the couple's bank account using their ATM card in Tennessee, investigators said.

Court papers didn't indicate if Hilton had an attorney for the latest charges. Public defender Robert Friedman was his attorney when he was sentenced to death in Florida and said he couldn't talk about the North Carolina case because he knew little about it.

Authorities said Hilton was a drifter who prowled remote trails in the Southeast in late 2007 and 2008. Both the women he has been convicted of killing were beheaded.

Hilton was convicted and sentenced to death in April for the December 2007 killing of Cheryl Dunlap, a 46-year-old nurse and Sunday school teacher whose body was found in the Apalachicola National Forest in north Florida.

Hilton pleaded guilty in January 2008 to killing Emerson, a 24-year-old hiker, off a forest trail in northern Georgia. He was arrested at a nearby convenience store trying to get rid of Dunlap's boots, authorities said.

Investigators in Florida also have said Hilton is a suspect in the slaying of 27-year-old Michael Scot Louis, whose headless body was found in a Florida state park around the same time as the other killings. Hilton has not been charged in that case.