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Squalid home, defendant's surprise testimony dominate 4th day of Ronnie Hyde murder trial

Hyde took the stand in his own defense, saying "I did not" kill 16-year-old Fred Laster, whose dismembered torso was found behind a Lake City Dumpster.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jurors got a closer look at the life of an accused killer on the fourth day of Ronnie Hyde’s murder trial, as prosecutors introduced photographs of his squalid Jacksonville Beach home and he took the stand in his own defense.

The former pastor is accused of murdering and dismembering 16-year-old Fred Laster, whose headless, handless, legless torso was found behind a Lake City Dumpster in 1994.

Hyde is also charged with 25 counts of child pornography, which will be taken up at a separate trial. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. 

Under questioning from his own attorney, Hyde was seemingly at ease, answering her freely, and chuckling often.

"Oh no," he said often, as when attorney Ann Finnell asked, "Would you have ever harmed that child?" 

He testified he had no idea where most of the items found at the crime scene were found, including items that had his DNA on them, like a red plaid shirt. He testified he may have given it to Fred Laster. 

He said he also gave Laster an egg crate mattress for camping, one similar the blood soaked one found in the Lake City dumpster. 

When asked about the pictures of his squalid home, he chuckled and said, "I'm a bit embarrassed about that. If I knew you all were coming over, I would've cleaned up a bit." 

The attempt at humor was met with total silence in the crowded courtroom. 

Family of Fred Laster frequently shook their heads as he testified about their family.

The lead FBI agent on the case testified her crews were unable to follow their usual protocol for collecting evidence because Hyde’s home was so full of trash, agents couldn’t safely navigate it. She said they took most items outside to photograph and catalogue, and were required to wear extra PPE and respirators because of what she called “the heavy odor emanating from the house."

Also shown to jurors today – pictures of an anatomy textbook found on Hyde’s bookshelf, which was the source of a furious confrontation between Prosecutor Alan Mizrahi and defense attorney Ann Finnell. Finnell said she “inadvertently” stipulated to the photograph (agreed to allow it into evidence without objection), but insisted she’d opposed the photograph from the beginning and that Mizrahi "knew it."

After court concluded Wednesday, Finnell called it “pure sleaze” on the part of the prosecution. “C’mon Ann,” Mizrahi shot back, saying she was “wrong” and that he’d “bent over backward” for her throughout trial. Things got so heated, the courtroom deputy repeatedly ordered them to “take it outside,” telling them “not in the courtroom!”

There were no such fireworks Thursday morning. Mizrahi agreed to remove the photo from the list of approved evidence, and the judge later permitted it over defense objections.  

Jurors were also shown tax returns in which Hyde claimed the victim as his foster son for two years after his disappearance and a poster by the national center for missing and exploited children titled “Knowing My 8 Rules for Safety.”

After struggling with IT issues, prosecutors began playing the police interrogation video of Hyde before noon. 

The state is expected to rest its case today. The jury is scheduled to get the case Friday.

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