ERWIN — A final plea deadline has been set in Unicoi County Criminal Court for the Unicoi County couple charged last year for their alleged involvement in a murder-for-hire plot.
Gerald Dorene Tipton and her husband, James Tipton, 2441 Chestoa Pike, appeared in Criminal Court on Friday morning for a plea deadline hearing. 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. Both were charged last August and indicted on these charges in April.
Judge Robert Cupp set final plea deadlines in both cases for Dec. 20. Cupp said if an agreement cannot be reached by that date, trials would be set for the cases after the first of the new year.
Officials with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department previously said the Aug. 16, 2011, arrests of the Tiptons were the result of what began as a joint narcotics investigation being conducted by the Erwin Police Department and sheriff’s department. It was during the course of this investigation that officials received an informant’s tip regarding a possible murder-for-hire plot, according to authorities.
On Aug. 16, 2011, an undercover agent posing as a hitman met with Dorene Tipton at the Unicoi County Welcome Center off the Clear Branch Road Exit, where she paid the agent with money and prescription drugs to have her ex-husband killed, officials said.
Authorities said Tipton provided the undercover agent with a photograph of the target, information on the type of vehicle he drives, information on where he lives, what times he would be home and specific directions on how to carry out the killing.
Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department Chief Investigator Ronnie Adkins previously said Tipton’s motive for wanting her ex-husband dead was past emotional distress during their marriage and the possibility of financial gain with him deceased.
Following the transaction, authorities stopped Tipton’s vehicle as she attempted to leave the welcome center property and she was taken into custody, officials said. According to officials, James Tipton was arrested several hours later for having knowledge of the plot. Authorities previously said James Tipton confessed to his knowledge of the plot during a police interview and told officials that the vehicle and prescription pills used by his wife to complete the transaction belonged to him.