Ronnie Hyde, charged in 1994 murder of teen, takes stand in trial

Prosecution rests in trial of former youth pastor charged with killing teen in 1994

Prosecution rests in trial of former youth pastor charged with killing teen in 1994

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In a trial that is expected to wrap up by Friday, the prosecution rested its case Thursday afternoon against the former youth pastor charged with killing and dismembering a 16-year-old boy in 1994.

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

Before they rested Thursday, prosecutors played the interrogation video between Hyde and the FBI special agent who arrested him. In the video, Hyde tells the detective about the last time he said he saw Laster.

“When he called and I picked him up, it was in evening. He spent the night and the next day was the garage sale and I tried to take him home and he jumped from the car,” Hyde says in the video.

Hyde also said Laster jumped from his car while he was being questioned in court Thursday. He said after the incident happened in 1994 that he went home and saw a family member, Travis -- Laster’s brother -- the following morning, and he said he told Travis what had happened.

The garage sale that was mentioned in the video was also discussed, with Hyde saying that Laster was supposed to help him with it.

Defense attorney: “Did you get up early on the morning of the (June) 4th?”

Hyde: “Oh, yes.”

Defense attorney: “Which car are we packing up to carry this stuff over to the neighborhood garage sale?”

Hyde: (Inaudible)

Defense attorney: “Were you anticipating that Fred was coming to help you with that?”

Hyde: “Oh yes.”

Defense attorney: “You discussed it with him? He was supposed to come.”

Hyde: “Yes.”

Defense attorney: “Did he show up?”

Hyde: “No.”

The defense attorney questioned Hyde for more than an hour, and before telling the judge she had no further questions, she asked:

Defense attorney: “Mr. Hyde, did you kill Fred Laster?”

Hyde: “No ma’am. I did not.”

Defense attorney: “Do you know anything more than what you’ve told us about Fred Laster’s death?”

Hyde: “No.”

Defense attorney: “Would you have ever harmed that child?”

Hyde “Oh no. I never hurt that kid.”

Hyde’s cousin took the stand where she read some of his journal entries to the jury.

“I feel depressed, lonely, struggling to stay alive. People I’ve been thinking of forgiveness, in a circle, Joey, Christian, Travis and Fred. Katrina for yelling at her,” the cousin read.

Earlier in the week, prosecutors laid out key evidence through grim testimony 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.

The state also showed gruesome 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.

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 Authors:

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