Grand jury to hear case in alleged murder plot

Brad Hicks • Mar 15, 2012 at 10:38 PM

ERWIN — Attorneys for a Unicoi County couple charged in August for their alleged involvement in a murder-for-hire plot waived their clients’ preliminary hearings Thursday in Unicoi County Sessions Court and the cases will now be presented to a grand jury.

Gerald Dorene Tipton and her husband, James Tipton, both of 2441 Chestoa Pike, were arrested on Aug. 16. Gerald Dorene Tipton was charged with solicitation to commit first-degree murder, sale of a schedule IV controlled substance and delivery of a schedule III controlled substance. James Tipton was charged with conspiracy to solicit first-degree murder and conspiracy to sell a schedule IV controlled substance.

Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department officials previously said the Tiptons’ arrests were the result of what initially began as a joint narcotics investigation being conducted by the UCSD and Erwin Police Department. During the course of that investigation, authorities received an informant’s tip regarding a possible murder-for-hire plot, officials said previously.

On Aug. 16, an undercover agent posing as a hitman met with Gerald Dorene Tipton at the Unicoi County Welcome Center, where she paid the agent with money and prescription drugs to have her ex-husband killed, officials said.

UCSD Chief Deputy Ronnie Adkins previously said her motive for wanting her ex-husband dead was past emotional distress during their marriage and the possibility of financial gain with him deceased.

According to authorities, Gerald Dorene Tipton provided the undercover agent with a photograph of the target, information of the type on vehicle he drives, where he lives and what times he would be home, and specific directions on how to complete the murder.

Following the transaction, he vehicle was stopped and she was arrested as she attempted to leave the welcome center property, officials said.

James Tipton was arrested a few hours after his wife for allegedly having knowledge of the murder-for-hire plot. Officials said he confessed to having knowledge of the plot in a police interview and told authorities the vehicle and prescription pills used by his wife to complete the transaction with the undercover agent belonged to him.

The Tiptons were scheduled for a preliminary hearing Thursday in Sessions Court following previous continuances. Attorney David Crockett, who is representing Gerald Dorene Tipton, requested the matter once again be reset as a witness, the person who set up the alleged transaction, was not present. Crockett said told Sessions Court Judge David Shults the preliminary hearing represented the only chance the defense would have to question this witness.

District Attorney General Tony Clark argued the witness was not involved in the transaction itself and UCSD investigators were prepared to explain the witness’ involvement and present other evidence in the case.

“I understand Mr. Crockett’s position but this is a probable cause hearing, not a trial,” Clark said.

Shults said his concern with granting another continuance is that the alleged incident dates back to August. Crockett again said testimony from the informant who set up the transaction was necessary.

“This lady is material in this case,” Crockett said of the witness. “She was texting (Gerald Dorene Tipton) right up until the time of the alleged threat. She was the one who was providing a hitman. She was the one who was saying ‘this is my brother Frankie the hitman, and he’ll be after you if you don’t go through with this.’ ”

However, Shults denied Crockett’s request for a continuance of the hearing, after which Crockett said his client wished to waive the case to the grand jury.

After consulting with his client, attorney Mitchell Manuel, who is representing James Tipton in the case, also waived his client’s case to the grand jury.

The grand jury is next scheduled to meet on April 10.

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