Former Carroll County schools Superintendent William H. Hyde took the witness stand yesterday in his own defense, breaking down several times as he described how he learned of an elementary school-age girl's accusations that he had sexually abused her and a police interrogation that he said resulted in investigators and the mother of his accuser bullying him into apologizing for something he did not do.
"They told me that as a result of what I had done to [the girl], she was going to end up on drugs, drop out of school, and she's going to live a terrible life," Hyde testified, his voice quavering as he appeared to fight back tears.
"You've got this image, this superintendent's image, and you need to get off that," he quoted the investigators and the mother as saying after they rejected the first of two letters he wrote apologizing to the girl. "The three of them just kept at it."
Hyde's voice broke off, and he took a few moments to collect himself. "The stuff on [the girl] really hurt," he continued. "I thought, 'My God, I haven't done anything to her.' They were convincing me I had done something - and they were pretty convincing."
In more than three hours of testimony yesterday - the seventh day of his trial in Carroll County Circuit Court - Hyde repeatedly denied that he had ever touched the young girl who has accused him of raping and sexually abusing her last summer.
The former schools chief, 62, left the Carroll school system in August 2000 to take a job with a small school district in a Montana logging community. He returned to Carroll County for a 2 1/2 -week visit last summer and is charged with abusing the child at her family's home during that time.
The Sun is not disclosing many details from the case to protect the girl's identity.
The defense team rested its case after Hyde's testimony. Prosecutor Tracy A. Gilmore then attempted to call Hyde's former wife, Patricia, as a rebuttal witness, but the woman's divorce attorney argued that she was protected by spousal privilege and could not be forced to testify. Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. - who is hearing the case and will issue a verdict - agreed and excused her.
Closing arguments are scheduled for this morning, bringing an end to the trial and starting the wait for Burns' verdict.
The day's testimony
In testimony earlier in the day, the judge heard from two defense character witnesses - Paul Miller, Hyde's half-brother from Millersburg, Ohio, and John D. Myers Jr., who served 12 years on the Carroll school board and considered Hyde a friend. Both testified that nothing they had seen or knew of Hyde led them to believe he would ever abuse a child.
When Hyde stepped onto the witness stand at 11 a.m., raised his right hand and swore to tell the truth, he did so in a hushed courtroom that was nearly filled with his friends and family, relatives of the girl and observers with no connection to the trial.
Many of the girl's relatives wept quietly and sat tensely on the edge of the courtroom benches throughout Hyde's testimony. The child's parents - sequestered as witnesses and prohibited from listening in on testimony - remained nervously on the bench just outside the courtroom where they have sat throughout the trial.
Several spectators in the courtroom took notes and listened intently with the help of court-issued amplification devices. One woman drew ink images of Hyde and the judge on a sketchpad.
James E. Reter, a Reisterstown accountant, former court clerk and longtime comptroller of the school system, said he has attended the trial as often as his work schedule has allowed.
"I have found the testimony disturbing," Reter said. "When the victim testified, I couldn't stay. It was just too much."
Although Hyde became emotional several times during two hours of questioning by one of his attorneys, Edward M. Ulsch, he remained stony and unflustered during Gilmore's 80-minute cross-examination.
Asked by the prosecutor whether it was true that he told investigators that he did not think the girl was lying about the abuse, Hyde said it was - but added a caveat.
"I said I didn't think she would lie about this; and by that, I meant that something had happened to her," he testified. Later he added, "I believed, particularly after listening to Dr. [Robert P.] Wack's testimony, that absolutely something had happened to [her]."
Wack, a Carroll County General Hospital pediatrician, testified last week that an examination of the girl revealed vaginal injuries "absolutely consistent with sexual abuse" and that he had never seen such pronounced physical signs of long-term sexual abuse.
Gilmore also questioned Hyde about his initial reaction when the girl's mother confronted him in a police-staged conversation that investigators taped with her permission.
"Your first response was to tell her where [the girl] had slept" during a trip to Virginia with him, Gilmore asked. "That was your first response to being told that [she] had been abused?"
Hyde responded, "I saw that on the transcript, yes."
"And then you wanted to know how recent the injury was?" Gilmore asked. Hyde agreed that was correct.
"And when [the girl's mother] tells you, 'She told me who it was,' you say, 'How did they touch her?'" Gilmore asked.
Hyde said that the girl's mother had rapidly "thrown out" a series of accusations and that "if you look at that transcript, you'll see I was a thought behind."
Hyde testified repeatedly about the emotional wringer he said he was put through from the day the girl's mother hit him with the accusations to the moment during the interrogation when he felt he was "breaking" and agreed to write a letter to the girl in which he apologized for touching her genital area.
"I did not believe I did those things," Hyde testified. "But I was so rattled that I could not sit there and deny it. ... I felt like my whole world was just shattered. Nothing fit together at that point."
Hyde testified that at some point in the interrogation he began questioning his assertions of innocence. "How could I have done this?" Hyde said he asked investigators. "Could I have been asleep? Could I have blocked it out? I was saying, 'Help me understand this.' "
If convicted of the rape charge, Hyde could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
Sun staff writer Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.