Man accused in 1994 murder, dismemberment case pleads not guilty to all charges

Not guilty plea in Fred Laster murder case

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Ronnie Hyde, 60, pleaded not guilty to all charges Tuesday morning, including a second-degree murder charge and 12 counts of possession of child pornography.

Hyde is represented by local private defense attorney Ann Finnell, who is known for representing other high profile clients in Florida like Casey Anthony. Hyde was in the courtroom for his arraignment briefly Tuesday morning speaking only a few times when he quietly answered Judge Angela Cox saying he did understand the charges at hand.

Since he is charged with a murder that took place 23 years ago, the sentencing statutes for that time period will prevail in his case. However, the 1994 Florida statutes regarding sentencing is only slightly different than the current statute and at this time won’t impact Hyde’s case.

The 1994 statute were based on a point system and inmates were given parole. However many crimes they committed leading up to their sentencing would add points and impact their prison time. Now Florida uses a criminal conduct code instead of a point system and it uses probation instead of parole.

Regardless, Hyde did not have a criminal history so the point system does not factor in to this sentence, especially since the 12 counts of pornography were found in 2017 and will be abiding by current sentencing statutes.

Hyde faces a maximum prison sentence of life in prison for the second-degree murder charge and a total maximum sentence of 180 years for the pornography charges.

We asked Finnell about the case after the hearing Tuesday:

Do you think he will get a fair trial since this has been such a high profile case?

“We certainly hope so,” said Finnell, “the public should give everyone a presumption of innocence at this time since there is no evidence that he did this.”

Do you think they should have it in Duval County even though it happened in Columbia County?

“I don’t know the answer to that yet.”

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We also asked if they would consider a plea deal if the state offered one, but Finnell says it’s too early to say. She also tells us she has not spoken to either the Hyde or the Laster family but welcomes anyone who has anything to add about the case.

She’s says right now their focus is on what evidence the state is presenting, and what evidence they lack.

“There may be little evidence in this case, we just don’t know,” said Finnell.

As for how Hyde is doing, Finnell says he’s doing the best he can for being incarcerated. “It’s not a good place to be, none of you would appreciate being there, so he is dealing well with the situation, his spirits are high and he is ready for the case to move forward.”

As the case goes forward, Finnell tells us she has great respect for state prosecutor Mac Heavener and expects nothing but a fair trial.

Ahead of Hyde’s arraignment on Tuesday, courthouse staff told First Coast News the stations could no longer live stream the hearing for viewers, stating it was not high-profile enough. But Hyde’s orange jumpsuit states quite the contrary. Originally Hyde wore a red jumpsuit at his first hearing, which indicated a high-risk inmate. Now he’s in orange.

JSO confirms the orange jumpsuit means Hyde is in separate housing for either disciplinary confinement or for mental health isolation. We’re also told the orange jumpsuit could indicate high-profile or high-security for an inmate and that the additional charges of child pornography could also be playing a part in his isolation.

Pretrial is set for May 16. Finnell says they will go over evidence until then. Their chance for a speedy trial expires on August 29.

We reached out to the communications director for the State Attorney's Office regarding the sentencing statutes Hyde faces. Below is his response:

"Guidelines in 1994 for non-capital cases set a range a trial judge was required to sentence a defendant unless the court “departed” upward or downward based on reasons (and evidence) to support it."

"In 1998, the Criminal Punishment Code came into effect that did away with sentencing ranges and instead provides, in most cases, a minimum sentence that must be imposed. If the court goes below that minimum, there must be a valid reason — which are defined by statute — and supported by evidence."

"There are no more upward departures because the court can impose up to the statutory maximum without having to give a reason."

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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