Trial begins for former youth pastor accused of murder and dismemberment of 16 year old boy in 1994

Jacksonville, Florida: On June 5, 1994, the dismembered torso of 16-year-old Fred Paul Laster was discovered behind a BP gas station near a dumpster. With the body, was a flannel shirt that, not until 2016, provided a DNA lead in the case that ultimately led to the March 2017 arrest of Ronnie Leon Hyde.

 

Columbia County Sheriff's Office Detective Brian Retz explained that, "the head had been cut off, the hands had been cut off, both legs had been cut off, so it was just the torso of the body."

 

Due to the state of Paul's remains, confirmation of his identity took time. Initially the medical examiner was only able to determine that the victim was under the age of 25.

 

In 1995, Paul's family filed a missing persons report with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. According to People, at the time of that report, it was suspected that Paul could be traveling with a band.

 

It was not until 2014 when the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children published information about the torso discovery in Columbia County that Paul's family contacted investigators.

 

A DNA test was conducted at the University of North Texas Human Identification Laboratory comparing a sample from Paul's family with DNA collected from the torso. In February 2016 a familial link was confirmed.

 

From there, the investigation quickly turned to Hyde who family had stated had picked Paul up the week that he had gone missing. In April 2016 garbage was collected from his home where nasal swabs were tested against DNA recovered from the flannel shirt that had been found with Paul's torso.

 

The DNA was a match.

 

On Tuesday, March 29, 2022, the trial, which is expected to last approximately a week, began.

 

Hyde, 65, has been charged with first-degree murder and 25 counts of possession of child pornography. He has plead not guilty.

 

Hyde's attorney, Ann Finnell filed a motion with the court to have the cases separated arguing that the charges were "improperly charged in a single information because they are not part of the same act or transaction." Her motion was granted on March 18.

 

Assistant State Attorney Alan Mizrahi submitted a notice on March 3 indicating intent to seek a prison sentence "above the statutory guidelines."

 

The sentencing guidelines for Florida require a mandatory life sentence for first-degree murder charges. During proceedings on Monday though, the judge reiterated that the state is not seeking the death penalty according to Jax4.

 

During opening arguments, Finnell told the jury that Hyde suffered from mental illness. She argued that images of the home he resided in would "rival anything you've seen on the TV show Hoarders," yet there was no evidence of Paul's blood or hair allegedly recovered.

 

At the time of his arrest in 2017, Hyde worked as a mental health counselor at Crosswater Community Church in Nocatee. At the same time, the Florida Times-Union reports that he was a youth pastor at the Strength for Living Church in Jacksonville.

 

Hyde's resume extended to working with the Florida Department of Corrections, Child Guidance Center, World Good News and even for a short time with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office jail. Hyde counseled teenage sex offenders and served as a psychological specialist in Florida prisons.

 

Additionally, Hyde had been a foster father to Paul and was known to the Laster family. Buried in approximately 4,000 pages of evidence submitted in the case was the revelation that Hyde had claimed Paul as a dependent on his IRS tax forms.

 

Additionally, at least two people have reported that Hyde sexually abused them when they were between the ages of 12 and 16.

 

Hyde is expected to testify during the trial, which is expected to conclude tomorrow.

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