Juror in Hilton Case: "Death" Decided on First Ballot

April 22, 2011 by Julie Montanaro

Gary Hilton arrived at Florida State Prison Friday afternoon to begin serving his death sentence. That's just one day after the judge imposed it.

Hilton's trial spanned three weeks, included dozens of witnesses and more than 300 pieces of evidence.

The jury had to consider every bit of it and now one of those jurors is giving us a glimpse of what happened behind closed doors.

"When we were being picked for jury duty, I really didn't realize he was in the room," Phil Reichert said with a laugh.

Phil Reichert says that lack of familiarity with Gary Hilton is probably why he was chosen as a juror.

In his journal, he described Hilton as old, bald, and somewhat unkempt ... "His eyes are a litte wild," he wrote, but I try to ignore that."

He says videotapes - both those Hilton made himself - and those recorded by law enforcement really started to sway him toward a guilty verdict.

"He was so verbose," Reichert said. "He talked himself basically into making me believe he was capable of doing something like what he did to Cheryl Dunlap,"

And the DNA evidence rpesented after that was the most incriminating.

"I thought it was very important that they were able to find some of her DNA on some of his things, if they hadn't clinched it before, they clinched it then," Reichert said.

"The defense, it's not that they didn't do a very good job ... i just don't think they had a lot to work with."

Reichert said he didn't place much stock in the suggestion that a head injury as a child or a Ritalin addiction had propelled Hilton to kill.

"I wanted to make sure we were being completely fair, we considered everything. It was absolute without a shadow of a doubt that he was guilty," Reichert said.

It took the jury three and a half hours to find Hilton guilty and just one hour to decide life or death.

"We were going to do a private vote and we all got little pieces of paper and we wrote either life or death. The foreperson, Elsie, got up and was ready to put tick marks under life and tick marks under death and she started opening them and she goes, well, I guess we don't have to do this. We all agree. I mean, there's just no doubt in our mind he did this and he deserves to die for it."

Reichert says that death verdict came on the very first vote.

Reichert says he was surprised at how stressful jury duty in this case was. The magnitude of that life or death decision and being away from his state job for more than two weeks really took its toll.

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