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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.

Conclusion:

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

POLSTON, C.J., and PARIENTE, QUINCE, CANADY, LABARGA, and PERRY, JJ., concur.

LEWIS, J., concurs in result.

NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION, AND IF FILED, DETERMINED.

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.

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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.
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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.

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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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