Woman charged in murder-for-hire plot gets year in jail

Brad Hicks • Jul 19, 2013 at 9:11 PM

ERWIN — The Unicoi County woman charged nearly two years ago with attempting to hire a hit man to kill her ex-husband was sentenced to spend the next year in jail at a Friday hearing in Unicoi County Criminal Court.

Gerald Dorene Tipton pleaded guilty to the charge of solicitation of first-degree murder Friday. Tipton also pleaded guilty to the charges of sale of a schedule IV drug and delivery of a schedule III drug.

Tipton and her current husband, James M. Tipton, were arrested on Aug. 16, 2011. According to officials with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, authorities received information regarding a possible murder-for-hire plot during the course of a joint narcotics investigation being conducted with the Erwin Police Department.

On the date the couple was arrested, an undercover agent posing as a hit man met with Dorene Tipton at the Zane Whitson Welcome Center in Unicoi County, where she paid the agent to have her ex-husband killed, according to officials. She was taken into custody as she attempted to leave the property.

James Tipton was arrested later that evening for having knowledge of the plot, and officials said he stated that his prescription pills were used to help his wife complete the transaction with the supposed hit man and that Dorene Tipton used his vehicle to travel to the meeting.

After entering her pleas, Judge Robert Cupp gave Dorene Tipton the opportunity to give her take on what led to the charges. She told the judge she and her ex-husband had disputes over child support and he had directed threats at her.

Dorene Tipton said a female acquaintance, who was also familiar with her ex-husband, told her that her brother was a hit man who had carried out such acts “many times,” and would be willing to kill Tipton’s ex-husband for payment.

Tipton said she was originally unsure whether to go through with the transaction, but was advised by the unnamed female that a plane ticket had already been purchased to transport her hit man brother and that if Tipton did not go through with the plan, the hit man would kill her instead.

“She had me so scared,” Tipton said Friday. “She just kept on and on and on.”

Tipton said on Aug. 16, 2011, she went with the female acquaintance to the welcome center to meet the hit man, who was actually an undercover agent. She told Cupp that she brought prescription pills and money as she was directed to.

Cupp sentenced Tipton to serve one year in the local jail as a result of her plea. She is to self-report to jail next Friday, per Cupp’s orders, and she will be eligible for work release. She was also sentenced to 10 years’ probation, effective immediately.

Tipton was also sentenced to two years on each of the drug-related charges, to run concurrently with the one-year sentence. As Cupp explained, although she was sentenced to serve two years on each of these charges, Tipton would spend less than a year in jail on them according to the Tennessee Department of Correction.

James Tipton was also in Criminal Court on Friday for a sentencing hearing. In February, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to solicit first-degree murder and conspiracy to deliver a schedule IV drug. He told Cupp that he had some knowledge of the plot, had allowed his wife to use his prescription pills for the transaction and his vehicle to meet the supposed hit man. However, Tipton said he was not present at this meeting.

“I was asleep when she went,” James Tipton said.

Cupp questioned why James Tipton was charged with the conspiracy charge since he was not present. Tipton’s attorney, Mitch Manuel, said his client had knowledge of the “formation” of the murder-for-hire plot and only limited participation, but he said he felt a jury would convict his client if the case went to trial.

Despite Manuel seeking alternative sentencing for his client, Assistant District Attorney General Ryan Curtis said he felt some confinement was necessary in the matter to act as a deterrent to similar activity.

“This is, frankly, deplorable,” Curtis said. “Had it come to fruition, we may be talking about something very, very different here.”

James Tipton was not sentenced Friday. Instead, Cupp set a diversion hearing in the matter, which will take place Thursday at 9 a.m. in Washington County Criminal Court.

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