Hickory man pleads guilty to multiple weapons charges

Staff Writer

Jay J. Bliss, formerly known as Johnny Franklin Lipps III, will spend at least the next 45 months in prison after pleading guilty to assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, assault by pointing a gun and possession of a firearm by a felon in Catawba County Superior Court.

The Honorable Gregory R. Hayes, Superior Court Judge from Catawba County, sentenced Bliss to serve 45 to 75 months in custody of the North Carolina Department of Corrections on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015.

Bliss, 39, of Hickory, entered his guilty plea in connection with a Nov. 26, 2014, shooting that left his then 19-year-old cousin Hunter Wade Lail hospitalized at Frye Regional Medical Center and later Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center with a gunshot wound to the head.

According to the investigation by the Catawba County Sheriff’s Office, Lail and his friend Nathan Alexander Morrison, also 19 at the time, were hunting in a wooded area near Snow Creek Elementary School when they heard shots fired as they were leaving around 5:30 p.m.

On their way out of the woods, they saw Bliss crawling on the ground with a .22-caliber rifle in his grasp. Bliss fired a shot in their direction, close enough that Morrison told investigators he could feel it whiz past him. Lail told his cousin not to point or shoot the gun anymore, but Bliss fired another shot, this time striking Lail in the forehead.

Two days earlier, Bliss had fired multiple shots over the heads of Lail and Morrison in the same wooded area. He told investigators he did not intentionally shoot at Lail, instead claiming that the rifle went off accidentally as he went to pick it up after climbing to the top of a creek bank.

Bliss had previous felony convictions for receiving and possessing stolen goods in Catawba County (1994) and escaping prison in Gaston County (1998).

Senior Investigator Rick Younger led the investigation for the Catawba County Sheriff’s Office, and Lance Sigmon handled prosecution for the District Attorney’s Office.