Nearly six years after the brutal murders of a Hendersonville couple in the Pisgah National Forest, Gary Michael Hilton was sentenced to four life sentences on Thursday, April 25, in U.S. District Court for the kidnapping and murder of John D. Bryant and Irene W. Bryant. He was also sentenced to 15 years in prison for a related robbery offense, announced Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.
In March of 2012, Hilton first pleaded guilty to murdering the Bryants, who were in their 80s. He also pleaded guilty to robbery, kidnapping and firearms offenses.
Hilton was able to avoid the death penalty in North Carolina in exchange for a plea arrangement.
According to police reports, Hilton, a drifter and visitor to the area, camped out and waited for victims before he encountered Irene and John Bryant and killed them in October 2007. The couple were killed not far from their home in Hendersonville.
Last Thursday's conviction was the latest in a string of four murders, all of which Hilton has pleaded guilty to. The Bryants murder conviction is in addition to sentences Hilton had already received: Life in prison for the murder of 24-year-old University of Georgia graduate Meredith Emerson in Georgia and death row for the murder of 46-year-old Sunday School teacher Cheryl Dunlap in Florida. The bodies of both women were beheaded.
The bodies of the four victims were found over a span of several months starting in late 2007, and Hilton pleaded guilty in the Georgia case weeks after his arrest there in Jan. 2008. He was convicted in the Florida case in April 2011, and his indictment in the North Carolina case came later that year.
At last Thursday’s sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger ordered that Hilton’s federal life sentences be served consecutively along with the sentences he received for the state convictions in Florida and Georgia.
In June 2011, a federal grand jury returned a five-count criminal indictment charging Hilton, 66, with the October 2007 kidnapping, robbery and murder of John and Irene Bryant on national forest lands. According to filed court documents and Thursday’s sentencing hearing, Hilton admitted killing John Bryant within the Nantahala National Forest in Macon County, using a firearm. Hilton also admitted killing John Bryant’s wife, Irene within the Pisgah National Forest in Transylvania County.
“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,” said U.S. Attorney Tompkins. “I also want to thank the prosecutors and our law enforcement partners who worked on this case for their hard work, professionalism and integrity.”
All federal sentences are served without the possibility of parole.
The prosecution was handled by Don Gast of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville. U.S. Attorney Tompkins thanked the FBI, SBI, the U.S. Forest Service, the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office and the Macon County Sheriff’s Office for their assistance in this investigation.