Jurors hear grim evidence, testimony in trial of Jacksonville Beach man accused of killing, dismembering teen in 1994

The murder trial of the former youth pastor charged with killing and dismembering a 16-year-old boy in 1994 has resumed. Ronnie Hyde is charged with murder, in the death of Fred Laster. Jurors had to sit through some difficult testimony yesterday.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.Disclaimer: Some may find the details included in this story to be graphic in nature. Discretion is advised.

A day after jurors listened to grim testimony in the murder trial of the former youth pastor charged with killing and dismembering a 16-year-old boy in 1994, testimony resumed early Wednesday.

Ronnie Hyde is charged with murder in the death of Fred Laster. Prosecutors are NOT seeking the death penalty.

Prosecutors laid out key evidence Tuesday that they say points to the former youth pastor and counselor’s guilt.

Jurors were shown footage of the crime scene and a look at physical evidence, including knives, a black plastic bag, a bloody bed cushion, a red flannel shirt, orange gloves with Laster’s DNA and sticks typically used in the bottom of a bathtub. Prosecutors say DNA from the red shirt was matched to Hyde.

But the hardest part was how a former Columbia County Sheriff’s deputy described Laster’s remains.

The state showed evidence photos from June 5, 1994, the day Laster’s upper body was found behind a dumpster at a BP gas station. Brian Retz was a detective for Columbia County Sheriff’s Office at the time.

“The head had been cut off, the hands had been cut off, both legs had been cut off, so it was just the torso of the body,” said Retz.

Laster’s family said Hyde picked Laster up that same week and they never saw him again.

A witness testified he saw a sports car similar to Hyde’s backed up against the dumpster where Laster’s remains were found.

Jurors also learned Tuesday that Hyde had been a foster father to Laster and had even declared him on his taxes.

During cross-examination, the defense said this isn’t enough to prove Hyde’s guilt.

A witness testified the knives found at the crime scene were widely sold at the time Laster was killed, and the gloves had been tainted.

“So many places, the Tristar knives were sold,” Calvin Finner said.

He also testified the fingerprint examiner used a dirty fingerprint brush to try and lift the fingerprints from the gloves.

Another witness, forensic anthropologist Heather Walsh-Hayney, said Laster’s body was cut with more than one knife.

“There were 25 sharp force trauma impacts with a total of 71 cut marks,” she said.

It has not been confirmed that those knives belonged to Hyde.

It was also revealed that detectives had considered several serial killers, but none were linked to this crime. The defense said anyone could have killed Laster.

Jurors also got a chance to hear more about Laster.

In his opening statement, prosecutor Alan Mizrahi said Laster -- affectionately called Freddy -- was a young man trying to find his mark in the world. He said Laster played in a heavy metal band, loved music and enjoyed hunting. He also had a twin sister.

RELATED: New evidence photos released in Ronnie Hyde case | Judge permits journal entries & other evidence in case of Ronnie Hyde, charged in 1994 murder | Jury selection to begin in trial of youth pastor accused of killing, dismembering teen boy

The court started with a group of about 50 potential jurors on Monday, and when asked by the judge if they had knowledge of the case due to media coverage, quite a few hands shot up, and attorneys worked to determine whether those men and women had already formed an opinion. By the end of the day, a jury was seated. Among the witnesses scheduled to testify are Laster’s family members, including his brother, Travis.

Hyde has also been charged with dozens of counts of child pornography. Those proceedings are being kept separate from the murder case.

This trial is expected to last a week, starting Monday and finishing Friday.


About the Author:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013 and reports every weekday for The Morning Show.