Judge denies bond for drifter accused of murdering hiker

A judge denied bond today for a drifter accused of kidnapping and killing a 24-year-old hiker in the north Georgia mountains.

Gary Hilton, 61, had his first appearance in the Dawson County courtroom after being charged Tuesday afternoon with the murder of Meredith Emerson.

Hilton had led authorities to Emerson’s body Monday evening in exchange for an agreement that prosecutors not seek the death penalty against him for Emerson’s killing, according to Union County’s district attorney, Stan Gunter.

Dawson County District Attorney Lee Darragh said today he was not involved in or made aware of discussions between Hilton and other jurisdictions or the U.S. attorney. He said he does plan to work with other jurisdictions involved in the case.

Gunter did not return a call today asking for comment.

Clad in an orange jumpsuit during today’s hearing, Hilton spoke only to his attorney, telling him he had finished two years of college.

Hilton’s attorney, Neil A. Smith, declined comment, other than to say ‘‘there are significant mental health issues, I would think’’ involved in the case.

Emerson’s body was found nearly 50 miles from where she vanished during a New Year’s Day hike. Emerson disappeared near Blood Mountain in Union County, where Hilton is charged with kidnapping with intent of bodily injury. He was denied bond on that charge Monday.

An autopsy report says Emerson was beaten to death and then decapitated three days after her disappearance.

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.

Three bloody fleece tops and a bloodstained piece of a car’s seat belt were found in a trash bin beside a convenience store where Hilton had used a pay phone, his arrest warrant stated. Hilton had tried to vacuum and wash portions of his 2001 Chevrolet Astro van, which was found without the rear seat belt, according to the document.

Authorities still are not releasing information on how Emerson met Hilton and what happened between the time she disappeared and when she was killed. Those details will come out in court proceedings, authorities said.

Police in bordering states like North Carolina and Florida are looking into unsolved disappearances and murders that are similar to Emerson’s, possibly pointing to Hilton as a suspect.