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Jury picked in murder trial of former youth pastor accused of dismembering his 16-year-old foster son

Jurors were asked about hoarding, violent crime and exposure to media coverage of the high profile case.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Ronnie Hyde entered court without a prison jumpsuit for the first time since his 2017 arrest, wearing a beige blazer, blue button down and paisley tie. 

Five years after his arrest and nearly 28 years after the crime he’s accused of occurred, the former youth pastor’s trial got underway Monday with jury selection.

Hyde is charged with murdering and dismembering 16-year-old Fred Laster, whom he identified as his foster son, according to records from the investigation. He has pleaded not guilty. 

Prosecutors believe he molested the teen before murdering him. 

The teen’s torso -- missing head, legs, buttocks and hands – was found in a Lake City dumpster in June 1994, but wasn’t identified as Laster until 2016.

Hyde is also charged with 25 counts of possessing child pornography, but those charges will be prosecuted separately, after Hyde’s defense team successfully argued they had nothing to do with the murder case.   

The grisly crime grabbed headlines when it initially happened, and again when Hyde was arrested in 2017. But only 14 of 56 potential jurors questioned Monday knew about the case from media coverage, and not all of them were excused.

Attorneys for both sides prepped potential jurors for intense testimony
Hyde attorney BeJae Shelton asked jurors if they’d had friends who run away, if they had butchering skills, and whether they knew people who were hoarders.

She told them presuming someone innocent “is easier said than done.”

“Is there anybody who feels that things have evolved to the point where you don’t get accused unless you’re guilty? Anybody feel that way?” she asked jurors.

Prosecutor Alan Mizrahi asked if jurors had been victims of violent crime, or if they would be upset seeing the torso of the dismembered teen.

“Is there anyone here that thinks just because the case is so old, the state shouldn’t be bringing it forward after all of these years?” he asked.

RELATED: Prior accusations against accused teen killer Ronnie Hyde went unpunished until 2017

Hyde paid close attention as the judge and attorneys quizzed potential jurors, occasionally conferring with his lawyers.

The judge questioned those with knowledge of the case in a private voir dire. 

Among the jurors excused from serving: a pastor who said his “passion for youth” would bias him against Hyde, and a woman who became emotional saying, as a mother of two boys, the allegations hit too close to home. 

One man said he could not abide the idea of sex abuse in an institution like a church. Another suggested he could not follow the judge’s instruction to avoid reading past stories about the case.

After excusing 11 of the original pool of 49 potential jurors, Circuit Judge Tatiana Salvador brought up an additional seven. 

The final jury pool of 12 jurors and two alternates consists of five women and nine men, all but two of them white.

Hyde faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree felony murder. The underlying felony for the charges is alleged aggravated child abuse.

Opening statements begin Tuesday morning at 9:30. The trial is expected to last until Friday. 

RELATED: Child porn charges no longer part of high-profile cold case murder trial

RELATED: Accused killer, Ronnie Hyde, has confessed to buying child porn investigators say


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