"the best post on the subject [of the Stockwell shooting] so far and I agree. A must read." - Tim Worstall, August 21, 2005

"Chris at Optimus In Omnis wrote a thoughtful post in July...his more recent post describes the edginess many Londoners feel" - BBC News Online, August 22, 2005

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Modern-day Bonnie and Clyde return to Tennessee

The Bonnie and Clyde for the 21st Century have been returned back to the state in which they started their two day chase from the federal authorities after shooting dead a Tennessee policeman in a daring escape from the long hand of the law, and a 41-year prison sentence.

Kingston, Tennessee is the epitome of a Southern town - warm hospitality is brought about by a tight-knit community who give each other nicknames. The Kingston police force was no different, dubbing Wayne Morgan, aged 56, 'Cotton'. Morgan was working at the Kingston courthouse on a sunny Tuesday, August 9, when George Hyatte, a moderately well-known criminal who had escaped from jail five times previous, was brought in for sentencing on robbery and aggravated assault charges. It was as Hyatte was being led out of the courthouse towards the prison van which was waiting for him and other inmates that his crazed wife attempted one of the most audacious breakouts that middle America has seen in the past twenty years.

Jennifer Hyatte, beau of George, had worked herself for the Tennessee justice system; it was a cruel twist of irony that she met her husband-to-be in jail, where she was working as a health advisor, and he was serving a short-term sentence. She was fired from her job at the Northwest Correctional Facility just five months after starting work there because she was sneaking in food to her lover, to whom she had fallen in a whirlwind romance.

After applying for permission to marry the inmate, Jennifer and George Hyatte became man and wife in May of this year, and it is likely that they quickly planned their attempt to break from the shackles that separated Jennifer, then on the right side of the law, and her husband.

Jennifer Hyatte had, possibly with the help of an accomplice, set up a second escape vehicle, a gold minivan, to accompany the first, an SUV, from which Hyatte burst out, unloading gunfire on the helpless correctional officers outside the Roane County Courthouse in Tennessee. 'Cotton' Morgan was left dead from a hail of bullets and another officer narrowly missed being hit. Luckily for the police officers, they managed to return fire at Hyatte as she smuggled the shackled man into the SUV, hitting her once in the right leg.

What followed was a chase across three state lines, involving the FBI as they searched for a known criminal who often deferred to violence when put under pressure and a newly-minted killer, infatuated with her husband to the point of taking a bullet in order to achieve his temporary freedom.

The fugitive couple switched vehicles quarter of a mile from the courthouse and headed towards the Kentucky border. From there they travelled the length of the state in the gold minivan before stopping at a motel in Erlanger, KY, just miles away from the Ohio River, within close proximity of a major international airport. The police imposed restrictions of departures from the airport, which gave the couple precious hours to make their escape from the motel before the police raided it, finding only the abandoned minivan. By this point the couple had travelled 217 miles, and been on the run for over 24 hours.

A cabbie accepted $200 in cash to drive the Hyattes from Erlanger, KY to "the cheapest hotel you can find" in Columbus, Ohio. George and Jennifer, who was now badly limping from the gunshot wound to her leg, said they had lost all forms of identification and needed the driver to check-in a room on their behalf at the Columbus branch of America's Best Value Inn chain of hotels. Not knowing the seriousness of the situation, he did so and the Hyattes were now three states away from the starting point of their manic flee from the law.

It was only later that the driver, coaxed on by a friend, would call the police to inform them that he may, in fact, have driven two of America's most wanted to their possible safe haven from the police.

Officers acted quickly on this information, the disappointment of missing the couple in Kentucky half a day earlier still fresh in their mind and quickly surrounded the room the couple were believed to be staying in, commandeering both the car park of the hotel and the adjoining rooms. Calmly, one female officer called the Hyatte's room and informed them they were surrounded. Minutes later, Jennifer Hyatte came out of her room and surrendered, with her husband shortly following her. Police were relieved that the shootout which they believed would be inevitable had been avoided.

Both were taken to a local jail, with an appearance in court set for the following day. Jennifer was examined by a medical officer and her wound was found not to be fatal. After sentencing on August 11, an extradition hearing was set for August 19.

At that hearing, the two Hyattes snidely said to the presiding judge "send me to Tennessee," in what was a ten minute hearing. George Hyatte, upon his return to Tennessee, will continue his 41-year sentence. Jennifer Hyatte will face charges of murder and aiding the escape of a convict.

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