A five-hour interrogation video in a decades-old cold case offers a glimpse into the mind of the accused and the strategy of investigators.
Ronnie Hyde was arrested two years ago and charged with killing and dismembering Fred Laster -- a teenager he’d mentored, lived with, and even claimed as a foster child.
Laster’s naked torso was found in 1994 in a Lake City dumpster, along with Hyde’s DNA and items from his house, according to police.
Hyde was initially charged with murder; an additional 10 counts of possessing child pornography were added later. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts – and didn’t deviate from that position during his interrogation, recorded the day he was arrested in March 2017.
In the video, Hyde speaks slowly, pauses often and makes an occasional joke. But investigators from Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI press him about uncomfortable subjects – including adult websites he may have visited and his habits as a nudist. They tell him that his name popped as someone that might be connected to child pornography.
Hyde denies this. He says he’s “certain” they won’t find child pornography in a search of his phone, and adds, “child porn doesn’t do it for me.”
The conversation soon moves to Fred Laster. Hyde is the last known person to have seen the teen alive.
He tells officers the same story Laster’s family members say he told them – that he dropped Fred off at night somewhere on A1A and saw him get into a truck headed toward Jacksonville.
“He said he didn’t want to go home at all,” Hyde says. “He grabbed the steering wheel, and pulled the car over off the side of the road, and got out of the car and ran.”
Columbia County Sheriff’s Office Detective Jimmy Watson pushes back heatedly.
“I know how Fred Paul Laster got in a Dumpster in Lake City. And I know who put him there. And I know that person was you. And I will tell you I have plenty of evidence to back that up.”
He adds, “You can try to deny these things if you chose to, but evidence doesn’t lie.”
Hyde sticks to his guns. “The last time I saw Fred was that evening and that’s the last-- I did not hurt that boy.”
That portion of the interview ends shortly after that exchange, when Hyde requests an attorney. Detective Watson leaves. But the (unidentified) female FBI agent soon returns and says she will “wait” with him. She proceeds to speaks to and interview Hyde over the next 3 hours. They talk about his family, his abusive childhood and his counseling practice.
“I didn’t have anything to do with this,” Hyde tells her after Watson leaves. “I heard everything that this officer said. My DNA -- I mean he was in my car, he was at my house. Hair could simply be there. It’s not, I mean he was in my presence -- I don’t deny that at all. How it got in a dumpster, I have no idea. And items from my house, that’s a mystery. I don’t know. I have no clue. I’m as mystified about it as anyone else. And that’s why I say it looks kind of bad.”
At that point, Hyde says for a third time that he thinks he should speak to an attorney and the interrogation ends.
Hyde is due back in court Tuesday morning.