Death Sentence Upheld for Serial Killer Gary Hilton [COURT DECISION ATTACHED]

By: Eyewitness News; Julie Montanaro Email
By: Eyewitness News; Julie Montanaro Email

The full copy of the Supreme Court's opinion can be found as a PDF document.


For the foregoing reasons, we affirm Hilton’s convictions and sentence of death. It is so ordered.


LEWIS, J., concurs in result.


An Appeal from the Circuit Court in and for Leon County,

James C. Hankinson, Judge - Case No. 08-CF-697

Nancy Ann Daniels, Public Defender and William Carl McLain, Assistant Public Defender, Second Judicial Circuit, Tallahassee, Florida,
for Appellant

Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General and Meredith Charbula, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida,
for Appellee

UPDATED 9.6.2012 by Julie Montanaro

Serial killer Gary Hilton is appealing his death sentence in Florida's highest court.

Hilton was sentenced to die for the murder of Crawfordville Sunday School teacher Cheryl Dunlap.

His attorneys are trying to convince the state supreme court he deserves another day in court.

Gary Hilton was sent to death row for the 2007 murder of Cheryl Dunlap. The jury recommended it unanimously and the judge imposed it in less than six minutes.

"Our next case for the day is Hilton vs. State of Florida."

Now Hilton's attorney is trying to convince the Florida Supreme Court to throw out that death sentence, saying jurors should never have heard some of the evidence they did: evidence about Hilton's role in plotting a horror movie, the possible molestation of his step children and perhaps most damaging ... Hilton's own words "I started hunting in September." His attorney William Mclain says it all added up to a tainted jury.

One of the justices asked,"Given the crime, kidnapping, murder, decapitation, the admission this wasn't the first time .. in light of those facts, how could it possibly be prejudicial?"

"It's a structural defect and if we allow the horrendousness of the offense to control the fairness of the proceedings, then we're going to start bumping into some real constitutional problems," Mclain responded.

The assistant attorney general argued "I started hunting in September" didn't hint at earlier crimes, it showed premeditation. Meredith Charabula argued the rest of the issues raised in this appeal and said none would have changed the outcome.

"I feel confident that they're going to win," Cheryl Dunlap's cousin Gloria Tucker said after the hearing. "You know, issues are brought up, you only expect it, but I'm pretty sure we're going to get a win here."

A decision on Hilton's appeal could be six months or more away.

Hilton remains in federal custody in North Carolina in the wake of a double murder plea there.

There is no word on when he'll be brought back to Florida'd death row.

September 6, 2012 -- 11am by Julie Montanaro

Attorneys for Gary Hilton say he deserves a new trial because jurors should never have heard some of the evidence admitted in his trial.

His attorney, William Mclain, claims it was wrong for the judge to let jurors hear Hilton telling investigators "I started hunting in September."

Mclain claims that implied Hilton had committed other murders or other crimes and evidence of collateral crimes tainted the jury.

Mclain also pointed out testimony in the penalty phase included remarks from psychologist who referenced statements by Hilton's ex-wife that he may have molested his stepchildren. Mclain says the state did not provide any evidence of that and he called it "unduly prejudicial."

Mclain also argued the jury should never have heard about a horror movie called "Deadly Run." One witness mentioned that Hilton may have helped to fashion the plot for the film about a man who hunts women as prey in the forest.

The assistant attorney general, Meredith Charabula, argued the statement "I started hunting in September" was admissible as evidence of premeditation, not of prior crimes.

Charabula argued that the issues raised by Hilton's legal team pale in comparison to the aggravating factors in the case and if justices decide there were any merit to them, Charabula argued it still wouldn't have changed the outcome.

Charabula cited Dunlap's kidnapping, murder and decapitation along with Hilton's previous conviction in the kidnapping, murder and decapitation of Georgia hiker Meredith Emerson.

Charabula pointed out the jury's recommendation for the death penalty was unanimous.

September 6, 2012 -- 10:27am by Julie Montanaro

Serial killer Gary Hilton is appealing his 2011 murder conviction in Florida's highest court.

Hilton was convicted and sentenced to death for the 2007 murder of Crawfordville Sunday school teacher Cheryl Dunlap.

Today the Florida Supreme Court will consider Hilton's direct appeal. Hilton is not expected to be in court for the hearing.


December 2, 2011 by Julie Montanaro

A missing persons report filed December 3rd, 2007 would ultimately lead to one of the most shocking crimes in our area in years.

Cheryl Dunlap would later be found decapitated and her killer Gary Michael Hilton would be sent to death row.

It's a four year nightmare that Dunlap's cousin has put into the words of a new book.

It's been four years since Dunlap was kidnapped and murdered by suspected serial killer Gary Michael Hilton.

"The shock is something you never get over. The feelings are something you never get over," Tucker said.

Tucker has just published a book about the crime and court proceedings that followed.

"I'd start at 11 o'clock at night and write until 3 or 4 in the morning. It was real therapy," she said.

She got her first hard copy of "Victimized by a Serial Killer" this week.

"When I first opened it, I thought 'It's Sherry. You know, I've got Sherry. I'm holding Sherry.' I was just proud I could put something out that told people who Sherry was."

One hundred and fifty-three pages document the unfathomable, that this could happen here, to her family and to everyone in the community who felt the fear.

It also documents her frustration with the criminal justice system. A system that in her eyes made Cheryl all but invisible.

"Sherry didn't have a voice in anything. The whole trial was about Hilton and his rights and Sherry's rights didn't come up at all," Tucker said.

That frustration is echoed in her favorite passage in the book.

"When a tragic death occurs in a family, I think it is only normal to wish that you could go back in time and add one more comment or statement to a conversation. I would tell Sherry what a wonderful person she was and how much I appreciated her fine qualities. The State Attorney’s office did not get to see the effect Sherry’s life had on her family and friends. Judge Hankinson did not get to see the kindly qualities she expressed towards strangers. The defense attorneys did not get to see what a kind and loving person Sherry was. The jury did not get to see the unique individual she was, zealous for right principles, but coupled with compassion and love for people. The spectators at the trial did not get to see her devotion to her neighbors and her community. I could not help but think about how ironic it was that a life that had so much love and compassion could be snuffed out by a life that was so cynical and callous."

Tucker says she doesn't care if the book sells only one copy. She wanted to give Cheryl a voice and let other victims of crime know that there are resources to help them.

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  • by Anonymous on Dec 5, 2011 at 08:02 AM
    Cheryl had things in her hands to buy the friend said. Why didn't they get a photo of her checking out? Why didn't they have a photo of her leaving the store? What about the last ph call to her cell phone. It was from a drug dealer. Did they check on it?
    • reply
      by also anonymous on Dec 25, 2011 at 06:18 PM in reply to Anonymous
      Are you here to insinuate she was a drug head? or maybe it was someone she knew...but didn't know they dealt drugs? or do you even know? Stay off the comments section if you only want to cause controversy, and go get a life.
  • by Katherine Location: Tallahassee on Dec 5, 2011 at 03:42 AM
    It wasn't solved; at least not completely. Cheryl was a FIT lady and my spiritual sense knows, there was at least one other involved. What about the vehicle? Where is it? And a search of the internet will prove, there are MANY almost IDENTICAL unsolved murders in a 150 mile radius of Crawfordville. With Florida having had someone like Willie Meggs at the helm there is NO CHANCE, they'll ever admit someone remains out there. How can we ever trust a man who comes out and only slaps Harvey on the wrist for his drunken/drugged hit-and-run accident WITH INJURY of a 12 year old child. Oh, you didn't know a LITTLE GIRL got hurt that night? Yeah!! And HARVEY WALKED like a GREASED MONKEY through those bars.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Dec 5, 2011 at 08:00 AM in reply to Katherine
      Katherine, you are right. They even said back in 2005 they thought there was a serial killer in our area. We were never told. But you are right again. Look it up. Many women have been tossed in ditches with their throats cut, but no coverage of this, none. We have been kept like mushrooms in a dark hut. To protect the big box stores so they don't lose their business. I think also there were more people involved. And I don't believe Cheryl was hiking. Nobody who lives in Ivan goes hiking in Leon Sinks. There was even a woman in the area that day who resembled Cheryl so much, the clerk at the store thought it was her. But a friend who had worked with Cheryl saw her about 2:12 p.m. at a big box store in Tallahassee, yet her car was seen outside Leon Sinks by 3:30 p.m. by a FHP. Cheryl
  • by Bessie on Dec 5, 2011 at 03:37 AM
    I notice is a "self publishing" co. Did Gloria Tucker pay to have this published? Is it online? How much will it be? Can't wait to read it.
    • reply
      by Red on Dec 5, 2011 at 09:24 AM in reply to Bessie
      I don't think you have to pay on I think you can self-publish without any cost.
  • by VoteCampbellOut Location: Florida on Dec 4, 2011 at 08:30 AM
    We learned at trial that Sheriff Campbell botched the investigation even more than what we suspected. Cheryl was seen at Leon Sinks yet no bulletins from Sheriff Campbell asking for witnesses...only a Camo truck. Also, Sheriff Campbell was using some of his minions to trump-up charges on a political opponent at the very same time he should have been protecting the citizens. VOTE CAMPBELL OUT in 2012!!
    • reply
      by anonymous on Dec 25, 2011 at 06:19 PM in reply to VoteCampbellOut
      Couldn't be too botched...he was convicted.
  • by Red Location: Tallahassee on Dec 3, 2011 at 10:36 PM
    I have read the book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Gloria brought Sherry to "life" and I could visualize all the individuals in the book. She did give due credit to the prosecutors and the judge and jury. Good reading. I knew Sherry very well, in fact, all her life and miss her, too. I look forward to the time when there will be NO crime on this earth.
  • by Sheri Location: Crawfordville on Dec 3, 2011 at 08:14 PM
    Thank you Ms. Tucker for your care and memories and thoughts of Cheryl in a book. I plan to buy it. A missing lady, a customer in the same store in which I worked the same day gave a deep feeling of sadness for me, especially when I finally saw the good picture of her to know who it was. I was surprised at how few persons came to the Crawfordville Park for Cheryl's memorial. Everyone knew how special Cheryl was, so prosecuting Hilton successfully was important. I wanted details so we could understand how Cheryl was caught off guard. However, other criminals don't need more details. Hilton should be executed, but that takes long expensive time. I would like pressure on Hilton re: his other likely victims. I saw one of Cheryl's sons a few days ago at a job. Such a fine appearing young man and worker. It took so long to interview so many people over such large areas. Three years so long, yet it hardly feels like 4 years now. Too many such sad crimes these days. Another full-of-life young lady, a cashier in a store in which I often visited, disappeared with evidence indicating death was also saddening. Loss of her made the loss of Cheryl more maddening all over again.
  • by Sr. Citizen on Dec 3, 2011 at 06:39 PM
    I look forward to reading about Cheryl and her life. I bet it is interesting. She was a kind hearted woman.
  • by Gayle on Dec 3, 2011 at 04:43 PM
    The State Attorneys and Judge Hankinson did an excellent job in this case. They have to preserve the perp's rights or that would be grounds for appeals. However, the evidence spoke loudly and clearly that the right person was being prosecuted and should die for this horrific crime. that could not have occurred if people weren't looking out for Cheryl's rights. Hilton should be placed in the express lane on death row. Of course, he is one that Rehwinkle-Vasilinda wants to keep alive. That's one politician that needs to be voted out!
  • by Anonymous on Dec 3, 2011 at 03:51 PM
    Never hear about Ali Gilmore anymore, do we?
    • reply
      by tracey on Dec 4, 2011 at 05:40 AM in reply to
      i knew ali, from shopping at the publix she worked at. she was very nice. i knew cheryl from work, we weren't close, but i knew her and she was a good person. i actually, think about both of them from time to time.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Dec 5, 2011 at 03:20 AM in reply to
      So many missing women in Florida and South GA that just disappeared off the face of the earth never to been seen again. Something just not right and it is truly sad to know these women are gone forever without a trace.
  • by BS on Dec 3, 2011 at 10:09 AM
    Yes, everyone can stop reading stories and comments, but what kind of sorry person do have to be to post things that you know very well will hurt the family and friends of this dear lady?! Get a life and stop using your "intellect" to flip it on someone else.
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