For years, as a school administrator and superintendent, William H. Hyde offered assistance to police investigating child abuse and sexual assault cases in Carroll County public schools.
That fact was not lost on the former superintendent when the same investigator he had praised for getting to the bottom of past cases began tackling a new one by questioning him. Hyde commented then how odd it was "to be on the suspect end of an investigation," according to a police report.
Today, the 62-year-old career educator will find himself even further from his old role when he takes his place at the defendant's table in a Carroll Circuit courtroom, where he is scheduled to go to trial in the alleged rape and sexual abuse of an elementary school-age girl last summer.
The turn of events has not escaped the mother of the alleged victim either, who wondered aloud in a taped confrontation with Hyde whether he would use his professional reputation in the community to evade conviction.
"How are you going to try to get out of this one?" the woman asked, according to a transcript of the conversation taped by police with her permission Aug. 7, 2002, on the eve of Hyde's arrest. "I mean, is it going to be your word against [hers]? 'A 60-year- old former superintendent, of course he wouldn't do that!' "
Prosecutors, however, are expected to offer more than the child's accusations as the trial gets under way.
Carroll Deputy State's Attorney Tracy A. Gilmore likely will introduce a letter Hyde wrote to the young girl in which he apologized for touching her genital area and assured her that he believed she was telling the truth. Investigators say the correspondence amounts to a confession, while defense attorneys argue that police coerced their client into writing the letter amid nine hours of questioning and a failed lie detector test.
Gilmore is also expected to call to the stand Ruth Ann Arty, the lead investigator in the case who testified in March at a preliminary hearing that Hyde wondered aloud whether he could be responsible for genital injuries documented in photographs and medical reports from the alleged victim's doctor.
"Maybe I did do this, and I don't remember," Arty quoted Hyde as saying after a polygraph test indicated he had deceptively answered questions about the case. "Maybe I did this and was asleep when I did it."
Arty testified that she reminded Hyde that he would not have failed the polygraph test if that was the case because it's impossible to lie about something you don't remember.
Gilmore did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Hyde is being defended by Westminster lawyers Edward M. Ulsch and Kathi Hill, who is a former prosecutor who started the child abuse unit that is prosecuting Hyde.
The defense team has chosen a trial by Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. rather than a jury, Ulsch said, declining to further discuss the case.
Choosing to be tried by a judge is a tactic sometimes used by defense lawyers hoping to minimize the negative impact of emotional testimony, especially from a child.
Police tactics an issue
Court records show that the defense has identified at least two potential expert witnesses. One of those potential witnesses, Richard J. Ofshe, is a social psychologist and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who has studied suspects who falsely confess to crimes they did not commit.
According to court documents filed by defense lawyers late last month, the experts will testify about police investigative and interrogation tactics regarding both suspects and victims in child abuse cases. Ofshe also will discuss Hyde's statements to police, "how intelligent individuals may still fall victim" and Hyde's failure to confess despite the duress he was under, according to the court filing.
Investigators, however, have tried to thwart that tactic by testifying how they offered Hyde frequent breaks and fetched him dinner from the fast-food restaurant of his choice.
Hyde took the witness stand during a preliminary hearing in the case, spending several hours testifying about his family history, his confrontation with the alleged victim's mother and the 21 1/2 hours he spent with investigators, from an 8 a.m. meeting with Arty at a Reisterstown restaurant to the Westminster police barracks and then the county detention center.
The son of a coal miner and a homemaker, Hyde grew up in the economically depressed Allegany County community of Frostburg. He taught history and English and coached football in Prince George's County for three years before taking the first of many administrative positions with the state education department and then Carroll schools.
When the county school board appointed him superintendent of the 28,000-student system in June 1998, board members hailed him as a "visionary educator" expected to lead the district into the next century.
But in July 2000, amid calls for his resignation and a grand jury investigation into bungled school construction projects and district mismanagement, Hyde announced early retirement plans. No charges were filed as a result of the 19-month grand jury inquiry.
Move to Montana
With 10 days left in his abbreviated contract, Hyde again stunned school officials and community members by starting work as superintendent of a 240-student school system in a Montana town with fewer residents than Carroll County has school employees. He declined to renew his contract last year with the Seeley Lake, Mont., system, choosing to work as an educational consultant, possibly in Portland, Ore.
Free on bail since his arrest in August last year, Hyde has been renting a cabin in a small Idaho town near the Canadian border.
In addition to the second-degree rape charge, for which he could receive up to 20 years in prison if convicted, Hyde is charged with two counts of sexual child abuse, third- and fourth-degree sex offenses and one count of second-degree assault.
His trial is scheduled to last a week.