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Serial killer Gary Michael Hilton’s death sentence upheld

The Florida Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence of Gary Michael Hilton, who was...
The Florida Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence of Gary Michael Hilton, who was sentenced to death for the 2007 kidnapping and murder of nurse and Sunday school teacher Cheryl Dunlap.(Florida Supreme Court)
Published: Aug. 26, 2021 at 1:59 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 26, 2021 at 2:58 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The Florida Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence of Gary Michael Hilton, who was sentenced to death for the 2007 kidnapping and murder of nurse and Sunday school teacher Cheryl Dunlap.

In a 34-page ruling issued Thursday morning, justices denied Hilton’s latest request to overturn his conviction and death sentence.

Dunlap’s cousin, Gloria Tucker, shared this statement with WCTV after reading that ruling:

“Life is a precious gift from our creator. We are all part of one large family: the human race. I think too many people have lost sight of the value of each life. It is a sad situation when someone can callously take the life of another human being. I appreciate the ruling of the Supreme Court of Florida affirming the value of Sherry’s life.”

Cheryl Dunlap disappeared from Leon Sinks on a Saturday afternoon in December 2007. Her car was found abandoned on the side of the road soon after she was reported missing, and a hunter found her body dismembered in the Apalachicola National Forest about two weeks later.

Hilton was later convicted and sentenced to death at trial by a unanimous vote of the jury.

In his latest appeal, Hilton’s defense attorneys argued he was entitled to a new trial and sentencing, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel by his defense team at trial.

The Supreme Court rejected those claims, including the claim that additional evidence about his abusive childhood, history of substance abuse or brain damage could have altered the outcome.

“Because the evidence of aggravation in Hilton’s case is overwhelming, he has not established a reasonable probability that, with the additional evidence of mitigation presented at the evidentiary hearing, he would have received a life sentence,” the Supreme Court ruling said. “Where the additional mitigation is minor or cumulative and the aggravating circumstances substantial, we have held that confidence in the outcome of the penalty phase is not undermined.”

The Supreme Court also rejected Hilton’s claims that the judge was biased and the trial should have been moved due to extensive publicity.

“We are certainly disappointed in the outcome, but the road is not over for Mr. Hilton as far as relief,” Hilton’s attorney, Alex Morris, said.

Morris says he and Hilton will now be weighing their options for a re-hearing and deciding whether to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I’ll discuss the ruling with him in the next few days either by phone or in person to plot the course of our next steps,” Morris said.

Florida Department of Corrections records show Hilton, 74, has been on Florida’s death row since April 2011. His appeals in Florida have spanned 10 years and this decision could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. A series of federal appeals could also follow.

Hilton has also been convicted of three other murders in two other states.

Hilton entered a plea and was sentenced to life in prison for the 2008 murder of Meredith Emerson. She disappeared while hiking with her dog on Blood Mountain in North Georgia.

Hilton also entered a plea and was sentenced to life in prison for the 2007 murders of John and Irene Bryant, who were killed in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest.

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