Norton man pleads guilty to 2018 Pennington Gap murder

Leon Tyler Smith, 25, pleaded guilty Monday to first-degree murder in the Aug. 28, 2019 shooting death of Lee David Lipps in Pennington Gap. Smith faces a sentencing hearing Sept. 18 in Lee County Circuit Court

JONESVILLE — A Norton man pleaded guilty Monday to the August 2018 murder of a Pennington Gap man.

According to Lee County Commonwealth’s Attorney Fuller Cridlin, Leon Tyler Smith, 25, entered the plea of first-degree murder before county Circuit Court Judge Tammy McElyea in the death of Lee David Lipps on Aug. 28.

According to the original criminal complaint filed by Virginia State Police Special Agent A.W. Boyd, Lipps said before dying that a black man had shot him while he was in his back yard at his residence.

Boyd reported that a surveillance system at Lipps’ home captured video of a gold Toyota sedan driving near the residence. Two witnesses in the neighborhood told police that they saw a black man wearing a black and gold shirt near the victim’s home.

Norton police later found a Toyota matching the one in the video and arrested Smith as he approached the car. In a warrant search of Smith’s residence, investigators found a shirt matching the witnesses’ description as well as .380 caliber ammunition matching shells found at the shooting scene.

Boyd also stated in his report that surveillance video from the Jonesville Walmart placed Smith about five miles from Lipps’ home at 7:13 p.m. the day of the shooting. Lipps called 911 at 7:28 p.m., while his home surveillance system filmed the gold Toyota driving and parking in an adjacent lot at 7:24 p.m.

Testimony from witnesses placed a black man near Lipps’ home between 7:25 and 7:29 p.m.

Cridlin said that the first-degree charge carries a maximum life prison sentence, while state sentencing guidelines call for a range of 20-40 years.

“Those are guidelines, but the judge can choose a longer sentence,” Cridlin said. “We will be asking for the maximum.”

A two-day sentencing hearing is set for Sept. 18-19 in Jonesville Circuit Court.