A former prison nurse pleaded guilty Monday to killing a corrections officer while helping her inmate husband escape and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Jennifer Hyatte, 33, appeared in white prison overalls with handcuffs and ankle shackles at the same Roane County courthouse where she was accused of killing Correction Officer Wayne “Cotton” Morgan.
She apologized as she stood near an enlarged photo of Morgan that his family set up near the front of the gallery. Fifteen uniformed correction officers attended the hearing.
“I can’t ask for you to forgive me because what I’ve done is unforgivable, and I don’t deserve it,” she said. “I would take it all back if I could, and I would still accept the punishment.”
Criminal Court Judge Eugene Eblen sentenced Hyatte to life for first-degree murder, 15 years for the attempted first-degree murder of another guard that she wounded and three years for facilitating her husband’s escape. The sentences will run concurrently.
Hyatte shot Morgan and the other guard Aug. 9, 2005, as they escorted her husband, George Hyatte, from a court appearance back to a van waiting to return him to prison. The couple fled the state but were captured 36 hours later at a motel in Columbus, Ohio.
George Hyatte, 36, remains in jail, serving a 41-year sentence for robbery and related offenses.
Jennifer Hyatte got a job with a state contractor in 2004 that took her into a prison to provide health care to state inmates. She was fired five months later after sneaking food into the prison for George Hyatte. He was transferred to a prison in Nashville, but that didn’t end the relationship.
The couple applied to the chaplain at the prison for permission to marry and were wed May 20, 2005.
Wife must testify in husband’s trial
Jennifer Hyatte wrote about her crime in a 34-page diary that she titled “A Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde.” In it, she calls George Hyatte the love of her life. Authorities found the collection of letters and notes in her Ohio jail cell after she was sent back to Tennessee.
As part of the plea agreement to avoid the death penalty, Hyatte must testify in her husband’s murder trial.
Prosecutors consulted the Morgan family, who approved the deal.
“Your choice has caused my sister and I to be without our father,” Morgan’s son, Dennis Harris, told Hyatte. “Your choice has caused our mother to be without her companion.”
Dean Harris, the wife of injured deputy Larry Harris, also spoke to Hyatte: “For 36 hours of freedom? 36 hours? I can’t get my mind around that. For 36 hours with George, you murder and attempt murder. Was it worth it?”