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Accused killer Ronnie Hyde testifies during trial for 1994 murder of Fred Laster

Ronnie Hyde, 65, is charged with first degree murder in the cold case, in which an unidentified torso was discovered behind a gas station Dumpster.
Credit: FCN
Accused killer Ronnie Hyde taking the stand to testify in his own defense. (March 31, 2022)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The trial for a Jacksonville Beach man accused of murder in the 1994 death of a Nassau County teen continues Thursday.

Ronnie Hyde, 65, is charged with first degree murder in the cold case, in which an unidentified torso was discovered behind a gas station dumpster. It was later identified as 16-year-old Fred Laster.

Hyde will testify during the trial, the defense told the judge on Thursday afternoon. 

Prosecutors have three more witnesses to call on Thursday before the defense begins. Wednesday, witnesses included the Chief Medical Examiner and two of Fred's siblings.

The defense is expected to request that an item already submitted into evidence, an anatomy textbook found in Hyde's Jax Beach home, be excluded from the case. 

The case is expected to conclude Friday.

RELATED: Ronnie Hyde Trial | Fred Laster's sister testifies about last time she spoke to her brother before he died

RELATED: Accused killer was big part of Laster family's life, brother testifies

Wednesday's recap:

Siblings testified Wednesday about the disappearance of 16-year-old Fred Laster at the trial of a former youth pastor accused of murdering and dismembering him.

Ronnie Hyde, 65, is charged with first degree murder in the 1994 cold case, in which an unidentified torso was discovered behind a gas station Dumpster in Lake City.

The case went unsolved until Hyde’s arrest in 2017. He is also charged with 25 counts of possessing child pornography but those will be pursued at a separate trial He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Laster’s twin sister Daisy Williams testified about a childhood with lax supervision following the death of their mother, to the extent that they didn’t notice “Freddie” was missing for a few weeks. The siblings say they believed their brother was with Hyde, a close friend of the family and youth pastor at their mother’s church. The last time they heard from Fred Laster was in a phone call with their older sister, which she recounted in her testimony.

“She said ‘Fred?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’

“And she’s like ‘Are you with Ron?’ And he said ‘Yeah,’ in like a really different tone, had a funny tone to him.

“And she’s like, ‘You OK?’ and he said ‘Yeah,’ and then he goes, ‘I just wanted call to tell you all that I love you and I love Pumpkin,’ which is what he called my sister’s daughter.

“And that was it.”

Prosecutor Alan Mizrahi asked, “Was that the last time you ever spoke to Fred Laster?” She responded, “Yessir.”

But Daisy Williams was also grilled by Hyde’s attorney Ann Finnell, who challenged her memory and suggested her recollection of seeing knives and nonstick bathtub stickers in Hyde’s Jacksonville Beach house was a “convenient” piece of testimony.

“[That] just happened to end up being something that was also kind of like what was found in a Dumpster in 1994, and you just -- in 2002 -- thought those things might be important?” Finnell asked.

“Never know what could be important,” Williams replied.

Fred Laster’s brother Travis Laster told jurors that as a youth pastor, Ronnie Hyde became a big part of their financially vulnerable family. Travis Laster said he spent virtually every weekend with Ronnie Hyde, alone, and sometimes travelled with him. As he grew older and spent less time with Hyde, he said, his brother Fred took on that role. He alluded to “some of the stuff that happened that I’m not allowed to talk about” prompting a strong objection from Finnell, a lengthy sidebar and a stern admonishment from Circuit Judge Tatiana Salvador.

Travis Laster testified in earlier suppression hearings about alleged abuse at the hands of Hyde. Those topics that have been disallowed at trial, but Prosecutor Alan Mizrahi asked around their edges.

“I’m going to ask this very directly, Mr. Lassiter: Do you regret not being there for your brother?”

“It’s probably the biggest regret I ever have in my life,” he said soberly. “Very much so.”

He also testified that while Hyde told his siblings he dropped off Fred Laster in June 1994 when the teenager all but jumped out of his car at night, Travis Laster said Hyde never told him that version of events for a decade, despite the two remaining in contact.

Chief Medical Examiner Dr B. Robert Pietak also testified Wednesday, saying it was impossible to determine how the teen was murdered based only on the condition of the torso. Laster’s head, hands and legs were never found.

In court, the usually stoic Hyde reacted ever so slightly as the medical examiner showed jurors pictures of the dismembered torso, shaking his head and looking down.

Court resumes Thursday at 9:15 am. The case is schedule to conclude Friday.

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