Jerry Summers: The Hyattes - Tennessee's Bonnie And Clyde

  • Wednesday, January 6, 2021
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

The sensational murder case that took place in the parking lot of the Roane County Courthouse in Kingston on August 5, 2005 contains a close similarity to the famous criminal couple of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow who terrorized the Central United States during 1931 – 1934. 

The Hyattes pled guilty to the murder of Tennessee Correction Officer Wayne “Cotton” Morgan and received sentences of life without parole.

Bonnie and Clyde were gunned down by a large group of Texas Rangers headed by ex-ranger Frank Hamer on May 23, 1934 on a rural road in Bienville Parrish, Louisiana.

The 2005 shooting received nationwide publicity and was referred to as the “Kingston courthouse shooting”.

At approximately 10:00 a.m.

George Hyatte pled guilty to a charge of armed robbery and was being placed in a van to be transported back to prison when his wife, Jennifer, who was a spectator, pulled a pistol and started shooting.  She fatally killed Officer Morgan and wounded Tennessee Correction Officer Larry “Porky” Harris but Jennifer was also wounded in the backside by one of the officers.

Both Jennifer and George fled the scene and were later captured at an America’s Best Value Inn motel in Columbus, Ohio.

After being transported back to Tennessee, Jennifer on September 17, 2007 entered a plea of life without parole which allowed her to escape the death penalty.

One of the conditions to her sentence was that she agreed to testify against her husband which could have led to a legal issue as to the validity of such a plea.

However, George did not fight the charges against him and also received a life without parole sentence.

Prior to being returned to Tennessee Jennifer while incarcerated in the Columbus jail started writing her life story which she titled “A Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde” and had completed 34 pages before it was confiscated by jailers and was turned over to the prosecution along with some letters to family and friends.

Although initial efforts by the news media to obtain the story were unsuccessful after the couple pled guilty the document became a public record and could be disclosed.

The Knoxville News Sentinel obtained a copy released by the District Attorney’s office pursuant to a “freedom of information” request.

In April 2009 a series of articles by reporter Scott Barker of the Knoxville paper reported the contents of Jennifer’s aborted manuscript and her letter to describe her unhappy life of alcohol and drug abuse, unplanned pregnancies, sexual activities with older men, broken marriages, sexual molestation and involvement in criminal activity, although she had no record of convictions.

The bizarre writing including a description of the effect that the sale of a horse named Weaver by her aunt had on her.  She described the horse as “her best friend.”

Other disappointments included finding her intended husband in the arms of another woman the night before the wedding when she was 18 and three months pregnant.

Somehow Jennifer got a job as a licensed practical nurse at Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville but was fired because of her relationship with George which included sneaking food into the prison to him.

Nevertheless they were married in a prison service in May 2005 while he was serving a lengthy sentence.

Three months later Jennifer would shoot Officer Morgan.  She described the two days her and George were on the run prior to their capture in Columbus, Ohio as “the best of her life.”

The funeral for “Cotton” Morgan was attended by over 1000 persons including 200 uniformed officers and Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen.

Wayne “Cotton” Morgan, a decorated Vietnam veteran was buried with full military honors. 

The route to the Morgan County Correctional Complex is now designated as 541 Wayne Cotton Morgan Drive in his memory.

* * *

Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com)

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