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By CINDY SIMPSON
A tentative trial date has been set for George Hyatte, charged with first-degree murder in a death penalty case for his alleged involvement in a courthouse shootout that took the life of prison guard Wayne “Cotton” Morgan.
Defense attorneys, who were in court for a hearing Tuesday, are also seeking a change of venue in the widely publicized case and want the death penalty off the table.
Trial has been set for Dec. 2. Hearings to deal with a number of motions in the case were set for Oct. 20 and Nov. 3.
A number of motions still need to be addressed, including defense motions filed last summer to dismiss the indictment and dismiss the state’s notice of intent to seek the death penalty.
Hyatte attorney James A. Simmons said there are a lot of legal arguments to support dismissal, but would not elaborate.
“Those are going to be argued at the next motion hearing,” he said.
Hyatte’s defense team is arguing that “the aggravating factors required to distinguish between a noncapital first-degree murder and capital murder are not charged in this indictment and that the indictment does not charge a capital offense.”
The defense cites a U.S. Supreme Court case that said that any facts that could increase the maximum penalty for a crime should be charged in the indictment.
Aggravating factors or circumstances are those factors used to decide whether a crime warrants the death penalty, and they vary from state to state. If sufficient aggravating factors are proven, the penalty is lethal injection in Tennessee.
According to a Web site called www.deathpenaltyinfo.org, the aggravating factors in Tennessee include the victim being a correctional officer and the murder being committed to escape custody.
Assistant District Attorney Frank Harvey was unavailable for comment following the hearing, but the prosecution has filed a number of answers to the motions filed by the defense.
In its response, the prosecution said the state is not required by statute or case law to “obtain an indictment against the defendant for capital murder.”
Prosecutors agreed that the indictment itself did not include any aggravating factors but argues that according to the case State vs. Moss, a first-degree murder “is only a capital offense when the State alleges certain aggravating factors, and that this is required to be done by the district attorney general upon 30 days notice of its intent to seek the death penalty.”
In their motion for a change of venue, lawyers included as evidence a bound collection of various news stories about the incidents surrounding the shooting outside the Roane County Courthouse.
Hyatte, who is being held at Riverbend Maximum Security Prison, was not in attendance.
Hyatte’s ex-wife, Jennifer Hyatte, entered a guilty plea earlier this year to her role as the shooter in the ambush of Morgan and fellow prison guard Larry “Porky” Harris.
She and George Hyatte are accused of plotting to free him from state custody.