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Ex-Guard Pleads Not Guilty to Escape Aid

February 27, 2006 GMT

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ A former prison guard pleaded not guilty Monday to a charge of helping an inmate make a deadly escape from a courthouse last year.

Randall Ridenour, 35, was fired in November after officials say he acknowledged letting the inmate, George Hyatte, use his cell phone a month before the escape from the Roane County Courthouse.

Ridenour did not appear in court Monday. His attorney waived arraignment and entered the plea for him on a charge of facilitating, permitting or aiding an escape. He turned himself in on the charge last week and was released on $1,000 bond.

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Hyatte, 34, a career criminal serving a 41-year sentence for robbery and related offenses, escaped Aug. 9 as two guards led him to a van after a court hearing.

Jennifer Hyatte, 31, a former prison nurse who met and married Hyatte behind bars, is charged with ambushing the guards, killing one and wounding the other when her husband yelled, ``Shoot him.″

The Hyattes were captured 36 hours later at a motel in Columbus, Ohio, and are charged with murder.

Ridenour told investigators he let George Hyatte use his cell phone to call Jennifer Hyatte on July 18 while transporting him from a prison to the courthouse. Ridenour also allegedly acknowledged making a personal call to Jennifer Hyatte later that day, a call that has not been explained.

Ridenour’s defense attorney, Pat Cooley, said Hyatte only wanted to let his wife know that a case against him had been rescheduled and he would not be in court that day, so she should not make the trip from her home near Nashville.

Cooley said Ridenour dialed the number and held the phone up so Hyatte could talk, and then closed the phone.

Ridenour, a guard at the Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex since 1998, acknowledges violating the prisons’ ban on personal relationships with inmates but has denied violating the law.

Ridenour’s trial was set for July 2007. He was charged under a statute aimed specifically at prison officials who help an escape. The charge carries one to six years in prison upon conviction, but that can be enhanced to three to 15 years when the escapee is a convicted felon, as Hyatte was.

Prosecutors said they would seek the maximum range.