Convicted serial killer Gary Michael Hilton's appeal denied

Published: Oct. 30, 2018 at 12:16 PM EDT
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By: Julie Montanaro | WCTV Eyewitness News

February 13, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- A judge has denied the latest appeal by convicted serial killer Gary Michael Hilton.

Hilton is on death row for the 2007 kidnapping and murder of Cheryl Dunlap.

He was in court in November trying to have his conviction and death sentence overturned. Hilton claimed his defense team was dysfunctional and ineffective.

Circuit Judge James Hankinson filed an order this week denying all of his claims.

This was Hilton's final state appeal. Federal appeals are likely next.

By: Julie Montanaro | WCTV Eyewitness News

November 1, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Four time convicted serial killer Gary Hilton is now headed back to prison after an appeals hearing that lasted three days.

He's on death row for kidnapping and killing Sunday school teacher and FSU nurse Cheryl Dunlap in 2007.

Hilton was in court in Tallahassee this week trying to convince the judge to overturn his death sentence and grant a new trial.

Cheryl Dunlap's cousin listened to every witness and every word for the past three days, including painful details she never knew about the final days of Cheryl's life.

"It's been very hard," Gloria Tucker said. "I realized what Sherry went through and how she was killed and so through this, I'm appreciative to have at least gotten some information," she said. "I don't like the information I got."

Those details were revealed by Hilton's own defense attorneys in his final state appeal.

Hilton's new defense attorney tried to portray the original defense team as rife with discord and dysfunction.

"We believe that resulted in Mr. Hilton receiving ineffective assistance of counsel. Witnesses were not presented that should have been presented," Hilton's lawyer Alex Morris said.

Prosecutor Georgia Cappleman, the same prosecutor who sent Hilton to death row, asserts none of it could have changed the outcome given the DNA evidence against Hilton and the heinous nature of Dunlap's death.

"I think the outcome was going to be the same regardless of how harmonious the defense team was behind the scenes," Cappleman said.

Hilton is now headed back to death row to wait on the judge's decision. That could take months.

Hilton's attorney told us they would drop all appeals if the state would commute Hilton's death sentence to a life sentence. The state confirms it rejected that proposal.

By: Julie Montanaro | WCTV Eyewitness News

October 30, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Convicted serial killer Gary Hilton is back in court in Tallahassee this week trying to get his conviction overturned.

He claims the lawyers who represented him were inept and will try to convince a judge of that in the next four days.

Gary Hilton slept through most of the morning's testimony as his new lawyer tried to convince a judge that the defense team that represented Hilton at trial didn't do their jobs.

"There have been sufficient allegations made that call into question whether he received effective assistance of counsel," Defense attorney Alex Morris said. "We believe not."

He's hoping it will get the four-time convicted serial killer a new trial or at least get him off death row.

Hilton was convicted in 2011 of kidnapping and killing Cheryl Dunlap. The same jury took only an hour to unanimously recommend a death sentence.

"It was clear from the very beginning that Mr. Hilton wanted life in prison or a trial and he wanted the state to prove everything," lead trial attorney Ines Suber said.

Hiilton's lawyer is now trying to portray lead attorney Ines Suber and her team as a bickering bunch, failing to communicate with Hilton or each other even with his trial just weeks away.

"The case was not ready," Suber said of the penalty phase. She testified she asked for a 90 day delay but the judge denied it.

"I think he was effectively represented," prosecutor Georgia Cappleman said. "There just wasn't a lot to argue."

Cappelman was the prosecutor at Hilton's 2011 trial and is fighting his appeal now. It's Hilton's final appeal in state court.

"For the family of Cheryl Dunlap what's at stake is finality, which is what they're looking for," Cappleman said.

The judge is not expected to make a decision this week and with court-ordered guidelines it could be 2019 before Cheryl Dunlap's family has answer on this round of appeals.

This hearing is expected to continue through Friday.

By: Julie Montanaro | WCTV Eyewitness News

October 30, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Convicted serial killer Gary Michael Hilton is back in a Tallahassee courtroom this week trying to have his conviction and death sentence thrown out.

Hilton is dressed in a red and white striped jail jumpsuit and slept through much of the morning’s testimony.

Hilton’s new defense attorney is trying to convince the judge that Hilton’s original defense team was ineffective and plagued by infighting.

Hilton was convicted and sent to death row by a unanimous jury for the 2007 murder of Cheryl Dunlap.

Lead defense attorney Maria Suber was on the stand for hours Tuesday. Suber says she was assigned to work on the guilt phase of the trial and another attorney was handling the penalty phase. She testified the two were not communicating in the months leading up to trial and she became angry and frustrated.

Suber said that during the trial she objected to one of her own defense team’s questions.

Suber says she told Hilton based on the evidence there was a 99% likelihood he would be convicted. She said Hilton told her he wanted life in prison or a trial and wanted the state “to prove everything.”

Suber said there was an unusual number of witnesses, documents and evidence in the case and estimates she worked on the case 16 to 18 hours a day for weeks leading up to the trial.

Suber said on cross examination that there were more than 500 witnesses and she did more than 100 depositions. She says she also spent two weeks reviewing evidence at FDLE.

The prosecutor also pointing out that Suber was handling several other death penalty cases at the same time as Hilton’s including the two men accused of killing Tallahassee Police informant Rachel Hoffman.

Suber says she was under a lot of pressure during the Hilton trial. She admitted she can be difficult and demanding, but denied she was unable to properly represent Hilton and denied having a nervous breakdown or abusing drugs or alcohol during the trial.