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Guard let Hyattes talk on phone weeks before escape

Associated Press Writer

KINGSTON, Tenn.- A guard gave an inmate serving a 41-year sentence a cell phone to call his wife three weeks before the couple mounted a bloody escape at a county courthouse that killed a fellow prison guard.

Officer Randall Ridenour admitted during an internal affairs interview that he allowed inmate George Hyatte to use his phone to call Jennifer Hyatte, prisons spokeswoman Amanda Sluss said Monday.

Ridenour also made a personal call to Jennifer Hyatte later that day, Sluss said. The content of both conversations remains under investigation, she said.

The cell phone call was made July 18 as Ridenour escorted George Hyatte from Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex to the Roane County Courthouse for a hearing, Sluss said. The shootings and escape the following month also occurred when Hyatte was at the courthouse.

Ridenour, a guard at Brushy Mountain since 1998, was relieved of duty last week. The interview concerned allegations he violated a ban on personal relationships with inmates.

Jennifer Hyatte, 31, entered no plea at an arraignment Monday.

Police say the former prison nurse, who met and married her husband in prison, ambushed two Brushy Mountain guards as they were leading George Hyatte, 34, to a prison van Aug. 9 outside the courthouse.

She was charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Wayne "Cotton" Morgan, 56, attempted murder for allegedly shooting at Morgan's partner, Larry Harris, and with aiding an escape.

George Hyatte, serving a 41-year sentence for robbery and related offenses, yelled "Shoot him" when he saw her, Harris testified at a previous hearing. Harris said he emptied his revolver and fired several shots from Morgan's gun as the couple fled. They were captured 36 hours later at a motel in Columbus, Ohio.

George Hyatte also is charged with first-degree murder.

District Attorney Scott McCluen has said he will seek the death penalty against both of them. Circuit Judge Eugene Eblen set Jennifer Hyatte's trial for July 25 and her husband's for Aug. 8.

In a 34-page handwritten account titled "A Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde," Jennifer Hyatte allegedly compared herself and her husband to the bank-robbing couple of the Depression era.

Prosecutors will likely use the account against her, her defense attorney John Eldridge said Monday.

"We certainly are concerned about any writings that she may have made that were confiscated from her in jail," Eldridge said. "I haven't seem them."

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