Gary Dean Hilfiker is not the same man today that he was in 1989, when he killed a woman by stabbing her 11 times in her South Salt Lake home.
He’s found religion, his attorney told a judge Friday, and wants to take responsibility for his actions — even his misdeeds of 25 years ago.
"It’s not uncommon for me to hear about people who have changed their life or found religion in prison," defense attorney Patrick Corum said Friday during Hilfiker’s sentencing hearing. "[Usually,] I don’t know how deeply felt it is. But Gary, for quite some time, has dedicated his life to religious causes. By all accounts, it is utterly and completely genuine."
It took more than two decades for DNA test results to link Hilfiker, 56, to the October 1989 slaying of 71-year-old Flora Rundle. Charges were filed in early May, and just 28 days later, Hilfiker pleaded guilty to first-degree felony aggravated murder. In exchange for his plea, prosecutors took the possibility of the death penalty off the table and recommended that Hilfiker’s new life term runs concurrently with one he is already serving for an unrelated murder in 1992.
Corum said the first thing his client told him when they met was that he wanted to plead guilty to the charge.
"He would have walked into this court as soon as possible and pleaded guilty, even with death penalty on the table," Corum said.
The defense attorney said Hilfiker did have some things he wanted to say to Rundle’s family, but since they were not present in court on Friday, the defendant kept his comments brief.
"When I was using drugs and alcohol, I wasn’t the same man I am now, by any stretch," Hilfiker told the judge. "I’m very sorry for this."
Third District Judge Deno Himonas ultimately followed the prosecutors’ recommendation, and sentenced Hilfiker to another life term in prison, and ordered the sentence to run concurrent to his first life sentence.
Family members of Rundle found her body inside her home Oct. 22, 1989, after they hadn’t heard from her for a few days, according to the Unified Police Department. She had been stabbed and suffered blunt force trauma, according to court records.
Detectives at the time could find no suspects, police wrote. But UPD last year received federal funds to reopen the case and found DNA evidence that was collected from Rundle.
Investigators learned that Rundle typically used taxis for transportation, and that Hilfiker was a cabdriver who had driven Rundle several times, police wrote.
Hilfiker, interviewed in prison, admitted to killing Rundle, police wrote in court documents. He said he was confronted by Rundle, so he stabbed her and took "a couple hundred dollars" from her purse, police wrote.
Hilfiker previously was convicted of murder and aggravated arson in the 1992 death of 38-year-old Marsha Haverty, for which he is serving up to life in prison.
Hilfiker stabbed Haverty up to 10 times in her Salt Lake City home, poured kerosene over her and set her body ablaze.
At a 2010 parole hearing, Hilfiker told the Board of Pardons and Parole that he killed Haverty, who was his friend, in a drug-fueled, "discombobulated state" when she tried to talk him out of killing himself.
Hilfiker said he was despondent after a failed romance, and in trying to talk him out of suicide, Haverty and Hilfiker began arguing over Hilfiker’s drug use.
The board had given Hilfiker a parole date in 2022, but the second life sentence means Hilfiker will probably never leave prison.
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