Judge denies diversion in murder-for-hire plot

Brad Hicks • Jul 26, 2013 at 3:48 PM

ERWIN — Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp denied granting diversion to a Unicoi County man charged nearly two years ago for his involvement in a murder-for-hire plot.

Instead, James M. Tipton was sentenced to spend 60 days in jail at a Thursday morning hearing in Washington County Criminal Court. This time will be divided over the next three months, and Tipton will spend 20 days in jail in September, 20 days in jail in October and 20 days in jail in November. Tipton was also sentenced to three years’ probation, which will run concurrent with his jail time.

In February, Tipton pleaded guilty to conspiracy to solicit first-degree murder and conspiracy to deliver a schedule IV drug. He and his wife, Gerald Dorene Tipton, were arrested Aug. 16, 2011. Officials with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department previously said that during a joint narcotics investigation being conducted with the Erwin Police Department around that time, officials received information regarding a possible murder-for-hire plot.

On the date the Tiptons were arrested, Dorene Tipton met with an undercover agent posing as a hit man at the Zane Whitson Welcome Center. According to officials, she paid the supposed hit man with money and prescription drugs to have her ex-husband killed and provided the undercover agent with directions on how to carry out the act. She was taken into custody as she attempted to leave the property.

James Tipton was arrested later that day for having knowledge of the plot, and authorities previously said that the prescription pills his wife used to complete the transaction belonged to him and that she used his vehicle to meet travel to the welcome center.

On July 19, Dorene Tipton pleaded guilty to the charge of solicitation of first-degree murder, sale of a schedule IV drug and delivery of a schedule III drug in Unicoi County Criminal Court. She was sentenced to serve one year in jail and will be eligible for work release. Dorene Tipton was also sentenced to 10 years’ probation.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect headline.

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