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Elderly couple’s killer given 4 life sentences

ASHEVILLE A federal judge has sentenced Gary Michael Hilton, who is already on death row in Florida, to four life sentences in prison for the kidnapping and murders of an elderly Henderson County couple more than five years ago in the North Carolina mountains.

Hilton, 66, was sentenced to death in April 2011 for the 2007 murder of Sunday school teacher Cheryl Dunlap in Leon County, Fla. He is also serving a life sentence for the 2008 murder of hiker Meredith Emerson in northern Georgia.

The state Supreme Court upheld Hilton’s death sentence in Florida last month.

Thursday’s sentences came after Hilton pleaded guilty to murder, robbery, kidnapping and firearms offenses in connection with the October 2007 deaths of John and Irene Bryant.

Hilton admitted killing John Bryant in the Nantahala National Forest in Macon County, according to court documents. He also admitted murdering Bryant’s wife, Irene, in the Pisgah National Forest in Transylvania County.

The Hendersonville Times-News, citing court documents, said Hilton admitted beating 84-year-old Irene Bryant to death Oct. 21, 2007, after he encountered the couple while they were hiking.

Hilton also admitted kidnapping John Bryant, using his ATM card to withdraw money, and then shooting him to death the following day, according to court documents.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the victims, and while today’s outcome cannot bring back John and Irene Bryant, it is our sincere hope that everyone impacted by Hilton’s heinous crime can finally have some closure,” U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins said.

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