Drifter Pleads Guilty to Georgia Hiker's Beating Death

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. (AP) - The wiry, graying drifter sought for several days in the New Year's Day disappearance of a 24-year-old hiker pleaded guilty to murdering her in what authorities called a frustrated robbery attempt.

In a startlingly swift resolution to the case, Gary Michael Hilton was immediately sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years.

The judge said she signed off on the deal because the 61-year-old likely would have died in prison before the state had a chance to execute him.

Hilton was indicted yesterdat morning by a specially called Dawson County grand jury that accused him of bludgeoning Meredith Emerson on January 4th, three days after he was seen with her on a trail in the mountains of north Georgia.

Dawson County District Attorney Lee Darragh said Hilton told investigators he abducted the physically fit woman in a plan to steal cash from her bank accounts.

But Emerson gave him false PIN numbers, and the prosecutor said Hilton finally took a tire iron to her head. John Cagle of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation says Hilton decapitated her to make it harder for authorities to identify the body.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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