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Tension grows as Hyde sex abuse trial continues

She understood him to be "the principal above all principals."

To the elementary school-age girl who has accused former Carroll County schools Superintendent William H. Hyde of raping and sexually abusing her last summer, that meant he had the authority to make sure that cafeteria workers got dessert with their lunches just like the children they were serving, she testified last week.

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It also meant, her mother testified, that when the young girl first tearfully named Hyde as her abuser, she questioned her own instincts, asking, "How could it be [him], because it was his job to protect children?"

That question hung over the courtroom last week during five days of testimony in Hyde's trial on charges that he sexually abused the young girl last summer.

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The former schools chief, 62, left the Carroll school system in August 2000 to take a superintendent's job in a small Montana mountain town with fewer residents than Carroll County has education employees. He returned to Carroll for a 2 1/2 -week visit last summer and is charged with abusing the girl at her family's home in July last year.

Last week, as the trial began, news camera crews stationed themselves in front of the red-brick Carroll County circuit courthouse, and attorneys not involved in the case explained to their clients that the commotion and sudden shortage of parking spaces had to do with that trial.

Family members and friends of Hyde and of the girl streamed into the courtroom, taking seats on opposite sides of the aisle, while schools employees, rape crisis center staff, graduate students and curious observers joined them to take in the trial.

The parents of the young girl took up posts on the bench just outside the courtroom door. Because Hyde's attorneys asked that all witnesses be sequestered, the girl's parents are prohibited from the courtroom and are not allowed to read coverage of or talk about the case.

Instead, they worked on crossword puzzles and spoke with friends, relatives and investigators who stopped by to keep them company. They were startled each time the courtroom door swung open, anxious for any sign of what was happening.

Inside, prosecutor Tracy A. Gilmore has orchestrated a slow parade of testimony, calling to the witness stand the young girl who has accused Hyde, her mother and father, the girl's psychologist, the hospital pediatrician who examined her and the lead investigator in the case, as well as a Maryland State Police sergeant and a retired barracks commander who now works for the school system -- both of whom interacted briefly with Hyde at the Westminster police barracks Aug. 8 of last year, the day of his arrest. Although the trial was scheduled to conclude Friday, lawyers on both sides now expect it to wrap up Tuesday or Wednesday.

Hyde appeared upset by emotional and graphic testimony early in the week, wiping his eyes with his fingers as the young girl described the alleged abuse and reddening as the pediatrician asserted that he had never seen such pronounced physical signs of long-term sexual abuse.

By the end of the week, Hyde seemed to have settled into the routine of a criminal defendant. He often fidgeted with his eyeglasses, his pen and the yellow legal pad on which he took copious notes and passed written comments to his lawyers. He once borrowed one of the large binders that his attorneys brought, reading over the apology letter he says investigators forced him to write to the girl before his arrest last August.

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He greeted old friends who approached him during breaks in testimony, telling them of kayaking trips out west and the small town in northern Idaho, where he has been living.

Judge Luke K. Burns Jr., who will hand down the verdict because Hyde waived his right to a jury trial, took a defense expert witness out of turn on Friday afternoon to accommodate the clinical psychologist's schedule.

Gilmore is expected to call another witness or two -- although she wouldn't say who -- when the trial resumes tomorrow, before Hyde's two attorneys present the rest of their case.

Defense lawyers do not dispute that the young girl was abused by someone. They argue, however, that Hyde is not responsible, that biased questioning by investigators prompted the girl to name him as her abuser and that amid a drawn-out police interrogation, Hyde was forced to apologize for touching the girl's genital area though he maintained he did not remember ever doing so.

Court records show that the defense intends to call at least one more expert witness, Richard J. Ofshe, a social psychologist and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who has studied suspects who falsely confess to crimes.

Ofshe 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 court documents filed by defense lawyers late last month.

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The professor has written extensively about false confessions, including an often-quoted 1997 paper, "The Consequences of False Confession: Deprivations of Liberty and Miscarriages of Justice in the Age of Psychological Interrogation."

He testified in a Huntington, W.Va., court in October that he has offered his expertise in more than 175 cases, received $8,000 plus reimbursement for his expenses in that murder case and has filed lawsuits on occasion when his reputation as an expert has been challenged, according to an article in The (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch.

Attorney Edward M. Ulsch said the defense team has not yet decided whether to put Hyde on the witness stand, although he added on Friday afternoon, "It's more than likely at this point."

If convicted of the second-degree rape charge, Hyde could face up to 20 years in prison.


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