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Judge clears way for Florida trial for hiker's killer

  • Story Highlights
  • Gary Michael Hilton to be sent to Florida for capital murder trial
  • Case involves woman found dead in national forest
  • Hilton already serving life sentence for killing Georgia woman on hiking trail
  • He's also a suspect in deaths of North Carolina couple who vanished while hiking
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- A man serving a life sentence in Georgia for killing a young hiker can be extradited to Florida to face capital murder charges in the slaying of a 46-year-old woman, a judge ruled Friday.

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

Gary Michael Hilton, 61, was indicted in February 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 Apalachicola National Forest southeast of Tallahassee, Florida.

The theft charges involve Dunlap's car and ATM card, prosecutors have said.

Hilton has 30 days to appeal Friday's ruling from Butts County Superior Court Chief Judge Thomas Wilson. William Meggs, of the Florida State Attorney's office, said he is confident Hilton will be extradited to stand trial.

Florida prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty against Hilton.

Hilton pleaded guilty January 31 to killing Meredith Emerson, 24, after he met her hiking in the North Georgia mountains. Authorities believe Hilton killed Emerson on January 4, three days after she disappeared while on a hike with her dog.

Hilton directed authorities to Emerson's body on January 7. An autopsy found she died from blunt-force trauma to the head and was decapitated after she died.

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

Police released surveillance camera photos of a man they said was using Dunlap's ATM card to obtain cash on December 2, 3 and 4. Authorities have not released information on how Dunlap died or the condition of her body when it was found.

North Carolina authorities have named Hilton a suspect in the deaths of John Bryant, 80, and his wife, Irene, 84, who disappeared October 21 while hiking in Pisgah National Forest. Irene Bryant's body was found near the couple's car November 9, and a hunter discovered John Bryant's remains in February. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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