Video: Manhunt

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/10/2005 11:31:44 AM ET 2005-08-10T15:31:44

Police are checking suggestions that family members may be hiding a convicted robber and his wife, who authorities said gunned down a guard to help her husband escape outside a courthouse.

George Hyatte, in handcuffs and shackles, was headed back to prison from a court appearance Tuesday when Jennifer Hyatte drove up and fired at the two corrections officers escorting her husband, Police Chief Jim Washam said.

“Mr. Hyatte hollered, ’Shoot him!’ She opened up fire on the officers, hitting one in the abdomen,” Washam said.

One guard, Wayne “Cotton” Morgan, was killed; the other was not identified. Police also suspected one of the fugitives was wounded.

The bloody escape set off an extensive search. “We will be looking for them, running leads until we find them,” said Mark Gwyn, the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

'Bonnie and Clyde'-style shootout
“It was just a 'Bonnie and Clyde’-style shootout,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “These people are very desperate and don’t have anything to lose at this point. They’ve already committed a murder, so we’re treating them as some of the most dangerous fugitives we’ve ever tried to capture.”

George Hyatte, 34, was at the Roane County Courthouse to plead guilty in a deal with prosecutors over an armed robbery charge, Washam said.

"This was a well-planned, well thought out escape," Gwyn said on NBC's "Today."

Jennifer Hyatte is a 31-year-old nurse who had been fired from her job at a prison in Tiptonville because of suspicions that she was having a relationship with Hyatte, Corrections Department spokeswoman Amanda Sluss said. Authorities said she had no criminal record.

Image: George and Jennifer Hyatte
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; Associated Press
Police are searching for escaped inmate George Hyatte, right, and his wife, Jennifer, who allegedly shot and killed a correctional officer escorting her husband to court.
Washam said authorities were preparing murder charges against the couple.

“We do have leads coming in on possible whereabouts, possibly some family members that may be hiding them out. We’re trying our best to coordinate those,” Washam said. “Right now, we can’t say if they had any help.”

Relatives appeared on television to urge George Hyatte to surrender.

"If you need me to come get you and bring you back, I will," said Michael Hyatte, George Hyatte's brother, said Wednesday on "Today."

The Ford Explorer driven by Jennifer Hyatte was later found abandoned with blood on the driver’s side, and police think she may have been wounded when the uninjured guard returned fire, Washam said. Authorities believe the pair switched from the SUV to a van.

George Hyatte, two years into a 35-year sentence on robbery and assault charges, “is extremely violent, and he has no care or concern on what he does to anyone,” said Rhea County Sheriff’s spokesman Jeff Knight.

A witness to the shooting, C.G. Gray, said Morgan never got his gun out of his holster.

Morgan, 56, who was not wearing a protective vest, died at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, about 30 miles east.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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