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Emersons killer charged with killing elderly NC hikers
Hilton serving life sentence for killing Buford hiker, sentenced to death for killing Florida hiker
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A drifter already serving a life sentence for killing Meredith Emerson of Buford and sentenced to death for killing a hiker in Florida is now facing murder charges for the slaying of a North Carolina couple.

Prosecutors said the couple were kidnapped from a mountain trail in the Pisgah National Forest in October 2007. A federal grand jury indicted Gary Hilton, 64, on two counts of murder as well as kidnapping and robbery charges in the deaths.

Investigators said 84-year-old Irene Bryant was beaten to death and her 80-year-old husband shot after Hilton camped on the trail waiting for victims. It was a month before Irene Bryant's body was found and four months before a hunter discovered the skeletal remains of her husband. A 911 call was made from the couple's cell phone the day they started their hike, but the signal was dropped, police said.

The next day, $300 was taken from the couple's bank account using their ATM card in Tennessee, investigators said.

Court papers didn't indicate if Hilton had an attorney for the latest charges. Public defender Robert Friedman was his attorney when he was sentenced to death in Florida and said he couldn't talk about the North Carolina case because he knew little about it.

Authorities said Hilton was a drifter who prowled remote trails in the Southeast in late 2007 and 2008. Both the women he has been convicted of killing were beheaded.

Hilton pleaded guilty in February 2008 to killing Emerson, 24. She was reported missing on New Year's Day 2008 after she hiked part of the Appalachian Trail and the Freeman Trail through the Blood Mountains Wilderness in Union County. After a lengthy search, she later was found dead in Dawson County.

Hilton was convicted and sentenced to death in April for the December 2007 killing of Cheryl Dunlap, a 46-year-old nurse and Sunday school teacher whose body was found in the Apalachicola National Forest in north Florida. Hilton was arrested at a nearby convenience store trying to get rid of Dunlap's boots, authorities said.

Investigators in Florida also have said Hilton is a suspect in the slaying of 27-year-old Michael Scot Louis, whose headless body was found in a Florida state park around the same time as the other killings. Hilton has not been charged in that case. 

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