Update Friday 10:47 p.m.
Gary Hilton continues to await trial in Leon County for the murder of Cheryl Dunlap. Eyewitness News has been going through newly released court documents that show how Hilton became the prime suspect.
December 1, 2007 may have been the last time anyone interacted with Cheryl Dunlap when a friend received a call from her phone and didn't hear anyone on the other end. When she didn't show up to work two days later at FSU's Thagard Health Center, the search was on and for nearly two weeks an entire community searched. Then on December 15th--a horrific discovery.
Major Mike Wood with Leon County Sheriff's Office made a public announcement in December of 2007. "The body that was located in the national forest this weekend has in fact been identified as Cheryl Dunlap." said Major Wood.
Family and friends could no longer hope that Cheryl was alive. Among vehicle descriptions, Cheryl's ATM card being used, and tips from citizens--law enforcement followed many leads and soon caught on to Gary Hilton. Hilton had admitted to killing Meredith Emerson in the woods of Georgia in early January 2008. Court documents show he was given a driving warning by a reservie officer in the Apalachicola National Forest on December 28, 2007.
Hilton, first described as a drifter, was also seen by residents in Wakulla County in December. This was the same month Cheryl Dunlap had disappeared. Around that time Major Wood told the media regarding Hilton, "We are potentially on to what might resolve this case..."
Once named the prime suspect, more witnesses said they had seen Hilton, his van, and his dog at places such as Glenda's Store in Wakulla. The state attorney eventually charged Hilton with Dunlap's murder and he was brought to Leon County.
On June 6, 2008, Sheriff Larry Campbell publicly stated as Hilton was extradited to Florida, "We received some people that say they're critical of us for bringing him Florida because he got life in prison in Georgia that for the sake of money we should have left him in Georgia. This isn't about money, this is about justice."
Gary Hilton remains in the Leon County Jail where he awaits trial. The state attorney's office says the Hilton case is still in the discovery process and has only just begun.
Update Friday 6:15 p.m.
Gary Hilton currently awaits trial for the murder of Cheryl Dunlap. The Crawfordville woman was found dead in the Apalachicola National Forest in December of 2007. Hundreds of pages of material are now available and much of the information relates to the events that took place in December of 2007.
Although details have been blacked out, there are witness accounts which describe how Cheryl Dunlap was found on December 15th in the woods. A reserve officer stated how hunters led him to the body.
He said, "Approaching the scene I observed, a BLANK..." then it says "...was also vegetation type debris that appeared to be piled up on top of the body." The judge has ordered that the exact condition of Dunlap's body not be released.
The Chief Assistant State Attorney says it took some time to put the court documents in a format for the public. "After the judge entered his final order saying that he was approving a final version of what was going to be redacted, then it took us several more hours to get the redaction done and copied for the public." said Fulford.
Physical evidence, lab results, and other items have also been withheld from the public. Cheryl Dunlap was once an employee at FSU's Thagard Health Center. Her tragic story was brought to light when she didn't show up for work on December 3rd, 2007.
Law enforcement exhausted numerous leads from the time Cheryl Dunlap was reported missing on December 3rd of '07 until Gary Hilton was named a suspect in January. During that time, the Leon County Sheriff's Office put out descriptions of trucks that they thought were related to her disappearance.
Some witnesses said they had seen a black dodge truck on Highway 319 next to where Dunlap's car was found. In the court documents, one person reported a man in the area who bragged "...about a new woman he was dating from Wakulla County who was a Sunday School Teacher." They also reported the man was driving a black truck and that he went missing on the same day Dunlap went missing.
Later on in the investigation, a white van belonging to Gary Hilton was also reported as vehicle of interest in the case. in January of 2008 when Gary Hilton was named a prime suspect, more leads surfaced from new witnesses.
Hilton was given a driving warning by a reserve official when he drove into a closed area of the Apalachicola National Forest. He was also seen by residents at Glenda's Store off Highway 319. The document says the witness said she saw a man with a dog with long reddish colored hair, much like Hilton's dog. She and another witness said they saw the man and his van in the area twice.
From these accounts and others, it seems he was spotted by maybe a handful of people. The assistant state attorney explained why we cannot know who the witnesses are. "We don't want witnesses contacted, that sort of thing and you know, in a case of this nature there's going to be a lot of prejudicial information and if that gets out there and taints the jury then it makes it more difficult to find a jury here." said Fulford.
The information made available has been covered up to some degree--but some details are visible.
The assistant state attorney says this was done to keep from jeopardizing a fair trial.
The documents are hundreds of pages of witness statements from close friends of Cheryl Dunlap to those who found her body in the Apalachicola National Forest on December 15th of 2007.
What is listed in the pages is considered discovery materials and this is only a small portion of a great deal of evidence in the Hilton case.
Jackie Fulford, Chief Assistant State Attorney says, "We're trying to pick a fair and impartial jury in Leon County and not have the case removed to a different jurisdiction because we think a jury here ought to hear the case."
Currently, the Hilton case is still in the discovery process and has just begun.
WCTV has pulled some material from the court documents that may have not been known before going all the way back to December of 2007... We know she was missing and did not show up to church on Sunday December 2nd and did not come to work at FSU's Thagard Center December 3rd.
Some of the court documents recall a few of her last interactions with people on December 1, 2007. One at a grocery store that evening and later when Cheryl called a friend.
It states that "Her phone had only rang once and her caller ID displayed Ms. Dunlap's phone number." And "When she answered the phone, no one was there."
Dunlap's body was found on December 15th of 2007 and the hunter who found her stated that he..."was hunting in the area when BLANK discovered the remains of a person laying in the woods just off of Forest Rd. 381E."
The documents also highlight sightings of vehicles around the time of Cheryl Dunlap's death. Some people even recalled seeing a white van like that of Gary Hilton's.
Hilton was given a driving warning in the Apalachicola National Forest for driving into a restricted area on December 28th. In the documents it shows how Hilton was confronted by a forest official. In documents the officer stated that Hilton asked how the officer found him. The officer said he followed Hilton's tire tracks. The officer also stated that Hilton said, "If you come to a WMA that you would get patted down." referring to a Wildlife Management area. And the officer thought this was somewhat strange and asked him what he meant and Hilton said, "...you can drive around town all day long but if you come to a WMA you were going to get patted down." The officer gave Hilton the warning and told him to leave the area.
Hilton was later arrested in Georgia where he plead guilty for the murder of Meredith Emerson last January. He was later extradited to Leon County last June where he remains behind bars awaiting trial in the murder of Cheryl Dunlap.
Redacted discovery documents have been released.
WCTV has the documents in house and will have the documents available as soon as possible.
Circuit Judge Terry Lewis signed an order allowing redacted discovery material to be made public.
In his order, the judge says the material that will *not* be released includes documents, photographs and other information that are graphic, sensitive and could jeopardize a fair trial.
Hilton is accused of murdering Cheryl Dunlap... and faces the death penalty if convicted.
Her body was discovered in the Apalachicola National Forest in December of 2007.
The materials to be released could be made public as early as Thursday night.