ERWIN — One of two people charged in August 2011 for his alleged involvement in a murder-for-hire plot entered a guilty plea Friday in Unicoi County Criminal Court.
James M. Tipton, 63, pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy to solicit first-degree murder and conspiracy to deliver a schedule IV drug.
Tipton, along with his wife, Gerald Dorene Tipton, were arrested on Aug. 16, 2011, in what officials with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department said began as a joint narcotics investigation it was conducting with the Erwin Police Department. During the course of the investigation, officials received an informant’s tip regarding a possible murder-for-hire plot, UCSD officials said previously.
On the day the pair was arrested, an undercover agent posing as a hitman met with Dorene Tipton at the Unicoi County Welcome Center off Exit 46, where the agent said she paid the agent to have her ex-husband killed.
Following the alleged transaction, which included Dorene Tipton providing the undercover agent with a photograph of the target and information including what times he would be home and specific directions on how to carry out the killing, authorities stopped her vehicle as she attempted to leave the welcome center property and she was taken into custody, according to authorities.
Officials said James Tipton was arrested several hours later for having knowledge of the plot. Authorities also said Tipton told officials that his prescription pills were used to help Dorene Tipton complete the alleged transaction.
Both James and Dorene Tipton were indicted last April.
When asked Friday by Judge Robert Cupp about his involvement in the case, James Tipton said he had heard his wife talking with a someone via telephone about the plot to kill her ex-husband. He said Dorene Tipton wanted her ex-husband dead due to “threatening” actions on his part over their daughter.
James Tipton said the person to whom his wife was speaking set up the time to meet the apparent hitman.
“I told her she didn’t need to do it, but she went and did it anyway,” James Tipton said Friday.
He also said his wife took some of his prescription pills and $50 to pay the person believed to be a hitman.
James Tipton is facing three years in prison on his plea on the criminal conspiracy to solicit first-degree murder charge and one year in prison on the drug charge. Cupp said the sentences would run concurrently, and James Tipton is scheduled to appear back in Criminal Court on April 10.
Dorene Tipton was also in court Friday. David Crockett, her attorney, requested that his client undergo an IQ examination, but said his client appears competent to stand trial based on previous psychiatric evaluations.
She is charged with solicitation of first-degree murder and a charge related to the alleged delivery of the drugs. Dorene Tipton is also scheduled to again appear in Criminal Court on April 10.