A new videotape has emerged that could help investigators in the case against the drifter charged with kidnapping and murdering young Georgia hiker Meredith Emerson.
The tape, recorded by a Georgia deputy's dash-cam, shows suspect Gary Hilton revealing that he was carrying a collapsible baton. A baton was found near Emerson's body and is believed to have been the murder weapon. Hilton has been charged with her murder.
Although the meeting between Hilton and the deputy took place two months before Emerson's murder, it may become significant by putting the murder weapon in Hilton's hand.
On Oct. 26, the unidentified deputy answered a trespassing call on a private hunting reserve. The officer found Hilton, 61, who said he was lost in the mountains.
Hilton told the deputy he was a former paratrooper and engaged him in conversation for more than 20 minutes. The deputy and Hilton looked at a map together to help Hilton find his way out. The exchange was captured on the deputy's dash-cam in the car.
"At this point he's got the deputy, as far as controlling the situation," said former FBI agent Brad Garret, who studied the tape.
The Cherokee County sheriff said anyone could be fooled by Hilton.
"The fact that he was so talkative and so friendly that anybody could speak to him and not see him as a threat, like a grandfather almost," Sheriff Roger Garrison said. "Certainly you can understand why someone would befriend him and not be threatened by it."
Hilton is a career criminal with arrests dating back to the 1970s, ranging from hit and run to arson.
Two months after Hilton was caught on tape talking to the officer, Emerson, 24, disappeared from a New Year's Day hike with her dog, Ella, on Georgia's Blood Mountain.
On the tape, the deputy asked Hilton whether he had any weapons in his fanny pack.
"Absolutely not!" Hilton replied. But then, when asked for ID, Hilton admitted that he had an expandable baton but told the officer not to be nervous.
Emerson was killed with blunt force trauma to the head, and authorities found a baton near where she disappeared.
"How many people do you come upon that have a baton?" said Garrett. "Police officers have batons. some people in the military may have batons. It's odd for any civilian to have a baton."
After Hilton was arrested, he led police to Emerson's body in exchange for an agreement that prosecutors not seek the death penalty against him, according to Union County District Attorney Stan Gunter.
Hilton is also now considered a prime suspect in the death of Cheryl Hodges Dunlap, 46. Her body was found Dec. 19 in the Apalachicola National Forest, southwest of Tallahassee, Fla. Sheriff's Major Mike Wood told The Associated Press that authorities have confirmed Hilton was in the area at the time of Dunlap's disappearance.