Authorities arrested a Unicoi County woman and her husband Tuesday evening for their alleged involvement in a murder-for-hire plot.
Gerald Dorene Tipton, 40, and her husband, James M. Tipton, 62, both of 2441 Chestoa Pike, Erwin, were arrested. Gerald Tipton was charged with solicitation to commit first-degree murder, sale of a DEA 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 Administrative Assistant Robie Sullins said the arrests stem from a joint narcotics investigation initiated several months ago by the Erwin Police Department and UCSD. During the course of that investigation, investigators received a tip from an informant who told of a possible murder-for-hire plot.
“Immediately, investigators turned their attention on that for obvious safety reasons,” Sullins said.
On Tuesday evening, an undercover agent posing as a hitman met Gerald Tipton at the Unicoi County Welcome Center located off the Clear Branch exit on the south end of the county, Sullins said. There, she paid the undercover agent with money and prescription drugs to a Unicoi County citizen, Sullins said.
USCD Chief Deputy Ronnie Adkins said the target was to be Gerald Tipton’s ex-husband, and her motive for wanting him dead was past emotional distress during their marriage and the possibility of financial gain with him deceased. His name was not released by authorities.
Tipton also provided the undercover agent with a photograph of the target, as well as information on the type of vehicle he drives, where he lives, and what times he would be at his residence, Sullins said. She also allegedly provided the agent with specific directions on how to complete the murder.
“Ms. Tipton was obviously very serious about going through with this murder,” Sullins said. “She had put a lot of thought into this herself. That’s why the charge will be solicitation to commit first-degree murder. It was clearly thought out.”
“If we hadn’t have stopped this and this had been a real hitman, this would have went through because she was serious.”
Sullins said Tipton’s transaction with the agent was recorded. Adkins said as soon as she attempted to leave the welcome center property, officers performed a traffic stop and Tipton was taken into custody.
“The operation went very smoothly,” Adkins said. “She was arrested without incident.”
During this investigation and after speaking with Tipton, Sullins said authorities learned that Tipton’s current husband, James Tipton, had knowledge of the murder-for-hire plot. He was later picked up and, during a police interview, confessed to his knowledge of the plot, Sullins said.
According to the arrest warrant, James Tipton had conspired with his wife prior to her arrest, and his vehicle and prescription pills were used to complete the deal.
The UCSD was assisted in the arrests by members of the Erwin Police Department, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
The pair was arraigned in Unicoi County Sessions Court on Wednesday morning. Gerald Tipton’s bond was set at $100,000, and James Tipton’s bond was set at $75,000. Both are scheduled to appear back in Sessions Court on Aug. 25.