A South Carolina man who pleaded guilty to the murder of a man last year inside the historic Smokemont Baptist Church in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been sentenced to more than 16 years in prison.
During a hearing on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger ordered 23-year-old Forrest Dakota Hill, of Easley, S.C., to serve 200 months in prison without the possibility of parole, followed by five years of supervised release, for the 2015 murder of Tyler Britton Gaddis, 25, of Wittier, N.C. According to court records, Hill stabbed Gaddis at least 16 times in the chest, back, neck and elsewhere. The victim’s cause of death was listed as “internal hemorrhage due to multiple stab wounds.”
Jill Westmoreland Rose, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, made the announcement and was joined by John A. Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Charlotte Division; Steven Kloster, Chief Ranger of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; and Chief James Dike Sneed of the Cherokee Indian Police Department (CIPD).
“It takes a depraved person to kill another human being, but an evil one to carry out the murder inside a religious institution founded upon the belief in the sanctity of human life,” said U.S. Attorney Rose. “While we can never replace their loved one, we hope that Hill’s lengthy prison term will bring closure to the victim’s family and friends.”
Court filings, plea documents and the sentencing hearing provided a timeline for events that occurred on March 29, 2015, beginning with a 911 call CIPD received at about 3 a.m. alerting officers to a stabbing that had taken place inside Oconaluftee Baptist Church, commonly known as the Smokemont Baptist Church, located within the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Paramedics responding to the scene determined that the male victim had been stabbed and was deceased.
Smokemont Baptist Church is located a few miles inside the Cherokee, N.C. entrance to the park, near the Smokemont Campground.
According to court records, Hill, Gaddis and another individual drove to the church together. While they were there, Hill stabbed Gaddis with a knife during an unprovoked attack. Following the fatal stabbing, Hill and his companion left the church and returned to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino where they picked up a companion and then departed for another local hotel.
The investigation was handled by the FBI, NPS and CIPD. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Pritchard of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville prosecuted the case. A federal grand jury indicted Hill and in April 2016 he pleaded guilty to a second-degree murder charge.
“Today’s sentence ensures that a killer has been taken off our streets. I want to thank NPS and CIPD for their invaluable assistance with this investigation. This case is an example of federal and tribal law enforcement working together to bring justice to the citizens of western North Carolina,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Strong.
“The National Park Service appreciates the coordination and cooperation of all involved agencies to bring this case to a successful prosecution,” said Chief Ranger Kloster.
Hill is currently in federal custody and will be transferred to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons upon designation of a federal facility.