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Hiker's killer faces death penalty in new case

  • Story Highlights
  • Gary Michael Hilton indicted in death of Florida woman found in national forest
  • Hilton already serving life sentence for killing Georgia woman on hiking trail
  • Florida prosecutor: No plea deal for Hilton "unless he wants to plead to death"
  • Hilton also a suspect in deaths of North Carolina couple who vanished while hiking
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(CNN) -- Florida prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty against Gary Michael Hilton, who already is serving a life sentence in Georgia for killing a young woman he met hiking on New Year's Day.

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Gary Michael Hilton is also a suspect in the deaths of a couple who disappeared in North Carolina.

Hilton, 61, was indicted Thursday in connection with the Florida case -- the death last year of a 46-year-old woman whose body was found in a national forest southwest of Tallahassee, authorities said.

A Leon County, Florida, grand jury indicted Hilton on charges of murder, kidnapping and two counts of grand theft in the death of Cheryl Dunlap, whose body was discovered December 16.

In the Georgia case, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty against Hilton after he led authorities to the body of Meredith Emerson, 24, who was hiking with her dog in the north Georgia mountains when she met Hilton. An autopsy found she died from blunt-force trauma to the head and was decapitated afterward.

Hilton pleaded guilty January 31 to killing Emerson.

Asked about the possibility of a similar deal in Florida, Assistant State Attorney William Meggs said prosecutors are not open to one "unless he wants to plead to death. ... We believe, because of his crime, he is very worthy of [the] death [penalty]."

No specifics have been released on the cause of Dunlap's death or the condition of her body when it was found.

Florida investigators have said they know Hilton was in the area at the time Dunlap disappeared December 1 because he encountered a forestry agent who wrote down his vehicle's tag number and ran it through the police database, Leon County sheriff's Maj. Mike Wood said last month. No warrants for his arrest or other criminal alerts were found.

Police have released surveillance camera photos of a man they said was using Dunlap's ATM card to obtain cash on December 2, 3 and 4.

Wood said Florida authorities had received numerous tips in the Dunlap case, including one from a hunter who reported seeing a "homeless-looking, disheveled man with a knife" December 7 in the Apalachicola National Forest. The hunter, who said he warned the man the forest was a bad place to be during hunting season, notified police of the encounter on December 19 after Dunlap's body was found.

Meggs said prosecutors hope to have Hilton moved to Florida to face the charges within a few weeks.

Although Hilton was indicted, the investigation will continue, the Leon County, Florida, Sheriff's Office said in a statement.

North Carolina authorities also have named Hilton as a suspect in the deaths of John Bryant, 80, and his wife, Irene, 84, who disappeared while hiking in Pisgah National Forest on October 21. Irene Bryant's body was found near the couple's car November 9; a hunter discovered the remains of her husband earlier this month.

Authorities in Florida and North Carolina have said there was no rush to charge Hilton since he was in the custody of Georgia authorities. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Christy Lenz contributed to this report.

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