Updated: 6:52 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008 | Posted: 10:14 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Hilton Admits Killing Meredith Emerson

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Gary Hilton pleaded guilty to Meredith Emerson's murder.
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Meredith Emerson

DAWSON COUNTY, Ga. —

Gary Michael Hilton was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without parole after pleading guilty to murder in the beating-death of a young woman hiker in the north Georgia mountains.

A plea agreement means Hilton will be sentenced to life in prison and will avoid the death penalty in this case.

A special grand jury handed down a murder indictment against Hilton Thursday morning. The indictment accuses Hilton of killing Meredith Emerson, 24, by blunt force trauma to the head.

The 61-year-old Hilton entered the guilty plea during a 1 p.m. hearing in Dawson County Superior Court. He attended the hearing in an orange jumpsuit and a bulletproof vest.

Judge Bonnie Oliver asked Hilton how he pleaded. He replied, "Guilty."

He had been indicted on a single count of murder in a specially called session of the Dawson County grand jury. The indictment charges he killed Meredith Emerson by blunt force trauma to her head on January 4th.

Meredith's father, Dave Emerson, spoke at the hearing and said, in part, "I feel that no punishment for Mr. Hilton is too great. In our civilized society we protect and nurish such heinous criminals as Mr. Hilton by providing three hot meals a day and a warm place to sleep under the watchful eye of officials. I only pray that he suffers immensely for his heinous acts and that even his fellow inmates recognize his evil and malevolence for mankind and treat him with appropriate measures."

RAW VIDEO: Meredith Emerson's Parents Speak At Hilton Hearing

Susan Emerson, Meredith's mother, also spoke at the hearing. "As far as I'm concerned, there is no such thing as justice in this case. Nothing will bring our daughter back," she said. "I'm not sorry the death penalty was taken off the table because I feel like that would've been an easy out for him. I feel like he should stay alive and slowly rot."

Susan said Meredith's 22-year-old brother, Mark, found it too difficult to speak at that time but he had read his parents statements and wanted the record to show he completely agreed.

Meredith Emerson IM Meredith Emerson

Darragh said Hilton intended to abduct Emerson to take money from her bank accounts but eventually he knew he would take her life. Darragh said on January 4th Hilton told Emerson he was going to let her go and then struck her several times with a jack handle until she died.

Union County District Attorney Stan Gunter said previously that Hilton led authorities to Emerson's body earlier this month in exchange for an agreement that prosecutors not seek the death penalty against him for Emerson's killing.

Authorities have said they believe Emerson was kidnapped in Union County and killed in Dawson County.

Her body was found nearly 50 miles from where she vanished during a New Year's Day hike near Blood Mountain in Union County. An autopsy report says Emerson was beaten to death and then decapitated.

Hilton was the last person seen with Emerson on the hiking trail and had tried to use her credit card, according to his arrest warrant.

Hilton has been named as a suspect in the murder of two other women and the disappearance of a man in North Carolina.

Check back with wsbtv.com for more on this developing story.

Previous Stories: January 24, 2008: Authorities Searching N. Ga. For Body Of N.C. Man January 20, 2008: Hilton Could Be Linked To Missing Student January 18, 2008: Hilton's Missing Van Found January 15, 2008: Hilton Suspected In Fourth Hiker's Disappearance January 15, 2008: Hilton Named Suspect In N.C. Murder January 14, 2008: North Carolina, Florida Investigators To Interview Hilton January 13, 2008: Hilton's Ex-Boss Speaks Out January 11, 2008: Duluth Police Encountered Hilton January 11, 2008: Memorial Service Held For Meredith Emerson January 10, 2008: Waitress: 'We Could've Saved Her' January 10, 2008: Florida Murder Victim Decapitated; Hilton Named 'Prime Suspect' January 9, 2008: Family Suspects Hilton In Levi Frady Murder January 9, 2008: Dashcam Video Shows Gary Hilton January 8, 2008: Suspect Leads Officials To Missing Hiker's Body January 7, 2008: No Bond For Emerson Kidnap Suspect January 7, 2008: Hiker's Father Makes Plea For Help January 7, 2008: Kidnapping Suspect In Court Today January 5, 2008: Police Charge Hilton With Kidnapping Hiker January 5, 2008: Police: Missing Hiker Likely Dead; Suspect Charged

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