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By DAMON LAWRENCE
Assistant District Attorney Frank Harvey said the state is ready to proceed with the capital murder trial of George Hyatte.
However, the defense might not be ready to go by March 25 — the scheduled start date of the trial.
“I have no reason to think it will go then,” Harvey said.
That’s because the lawyer who had been serving as Hyatte’s lead defense counsel, Cynthia LeCroy-Schemel, withdrew from the case last fall to take a job as an assistant district attorney in the 10th Judicial District. Instead of defending criminals, she now prosecutes them.
“I switched gears,” she said.
According to court papers, James Simmons of Nashville is Hyatte’s new lead defense counsel. Harvey said the state does not know if Simmons will be ready to put on a defense by March 25.
“I’m not optimistic that they’ll be ready,” Harvey said. “There’s a lot of prep work and catch up work for that guy to get fully on board.”
Almost two-and-a-half years’ worth, to be exact.
Hyatte is accused of masterminding an escape that resulted in the shooting death of Brushy Mountain Corrections Officer Wayne “Cotton” Morgan on Aug. 9, 2005.
He faces a possible death sentence if convicted.
His co-defendant in the case, Jennifer Hyatte, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder last September to avoid facing a death sentence.
She admitted to shooting Morgan in the parking lot of the Roane County Courthouse to help her husband flee state custody.
She received a life sentence, which she is currently serving at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville.
LeCroy-Schemel filed the motion to withdraw from the case less than two weeks after sitting in on Jennifer Hyatte’s plea hearing.
She said the chance to work for District Attorney General Steven Bebb, whose office covers Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties, was something she couldn’t pass up.
“This opportunity came along, and I just thought it would be best,” LeCroy-Schemel said. “I had been on the criminal defense side for about 18 years, and I was ready for a new challenge.”
George Hyatte, 36, is incarcerated at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville.
His sentence on a previous conviction isn’t scheduled to end until 2037.
With that in mind, the state doesn’t plan to put pressure on the defense to pick up the pace if they aren’t ready to proceed as scheduled.
“He’s got about 30-something years to serve anyway, so it wouldn’t benefit the state to push because it could grant an appeal issue,” Harvey said. “We want to avoid all appellate issues and make sure he gets a fair trial.”
There’s no deadline on when the defense has to be ready, either, so any delay could be indefinite.
“They can take as long as the judge will give them as long as we agree,” Harvey said. “Even if we disagree, and the judge gives them additional time, they can take it.”