Hyde case goes to judge

THE BALTIMORE SUN

After eight days of testimony from 17 witnesses and nearly two hours of closing arguments, attorneys prosecuting and defending former Carroll County schools Superintendent William H. Hyde on charges of rape and sexual abuse of an elementary school girl last summer wrapped up their cases yesterday and began the anxious wait for a verdict.

Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr., who has been hearing the case, said that he would announce his decision this morning. "There is a lot I want to look at," he said.

In closing, prosecutor Tracy A. Gilmore asked the judge to remember that "this case is about a little girl" and emphasized that he must give appropriate weight to testimony last week when the child faced Hyde and a courtroom full of people and recounted what she said happened to her at the hands of the former schools chief.

"She testified that nobody told her what to say, except to tell the truth," Gilmore said. "I suggest to you, your honor, that her life has been turned upside down since she told. Yet her testimony is consistent and supported by credible evidence - her drawings, her writings and, certainly, physical evidence."

Defense attorney Kathi Hill, however, used her closing argument to pick apart an investigation in which she said authorities got very little right. She said authorities conducted leading interviews that defense expert witnesses said could have pressured and misled the young girl into mistakenly naming Hyde as her abuser and a coercive interrogation of Hyde during which all the tricks investigators threw at him could not elicit a confession for something he maintained he did not do.

Condemning what she characterized as investigators' refusal to pursue evidence that did not fit their theory that Hyde was guilty, Hill said, "The investigative failures in this case are monumental. The investigative failures in this case are a crime in and of themselves."

Hyde, 62, left the Carroll school system in August 2000 to take a superintendent's job in a Montana mountain town with fewer residents than Carroll has schools employees. 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.

If convicted of the second-degree rape charge, Hyde could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. Sentencing guidelines recommend a prison term of four to nine years for a suspect with no prior criminal record.

Hyde's family and friends crowded into the courtroom yesterday morning with relatives, friends and colleagues of the girl's family. With witnesses no longer sequestered, the girl's parents were allowed back into the courtroom for the first time since they testified, and sat in the front row alongside family and one of the state police troopers who questioned Hyde. Investigators, lawyers, police officers, former and current school system employees and spectators with no connection to the case also were on hand for the attorneys' final remarks - and the possibility that Burns would issue his verdict.

Before lawyers offered closing arguments, the judge heard from Hyde's ex-wife, Patricia M. Hyde. The prosecution had attempted to call her as a rebuttal witness Tuesday after Hyde's testimony, but the woman's divorce attorney successfully argued that she was protected by spousal privilege and could not be forced to testify.

Patricia Hyde returned to court yesterday morning, however, and agreed to take the witness stand. She testified that Hyde had not, as he had testified, driven to her home in August last year after the alleged victim's mother confronted him and accused him of abusing her daughter.

Gilmore, the prosecutor, mentioned the woman's brief testimony as one of two instances when Hyde lied about the case.

The other, she said, was his assertion that Ruth Ann Arty, lead investigator in the case, told him and a retired state police barracks commander that "it really looks bad for him" - a comment that Hyde testified "scared the devil out of me." Both Arty and Larry Faries, the retired commander who was chatting with Hyde in the lobby of the Westminster barracks when Arty arrived, testified that Arty never said that.

"Clearly, he is capable of lying," Gilmore said.

The prosecutor also questioned the defense theory that investigators' leading questions in a July 23, 2002, interview - rather than the girl's actual experience - led the girl to name Hyde as her abuser.

"If the July 23 interview is so leading, why don't we get a disclosure of intercourse until Dec. 31?" Gilmore asked.

She also pointed out that the girl's account of the night of the alleged rape was fraught with childlike imagery - she said she awoke to find Hyde doing "push-ups" over her with his boxer shorts pulled down "where they weren't supposed to be."

"We talk about sex and sexual intercourse as if we're talking about adults, but it's a little girl," Gilmore told the judge. She later added, "She describes it as push-ups and she draws a picture. That drawing and clearly that description comes out of the mouth of a [young] girl. No one describes it as 'push-ups' to her."

But Hill said the prosecution has asked the judge to find Hyde guilty on the basis of "inconsistent evidence."

"They ask you to find [the girl] credible when she says he did it but you should find her uncredible when she says it only happened once," Hill told the judge. Though the prosecution asks that the medical evidence be used to convict Hyde, "it actually helps to exonerate him," she said, by revealing signs of long-term sexual abuse.

"Mr. Hyde was not in town for two years," Hill said, comparing the investigation to a car accident in which both drivers say they had a green light. "Then you find that objective witness standing on the corner," she said. "The medical evidence is that witness on the corner."

Hill also berated the tactics defense expert witnesses testified investigators used when questioning Hyde. Shortly before his arrest, after hours of interrogation and a lie detector test that he failed, Hyde wrote a letter to the girl in which he apologized for touching her genital area. But he said he made clear to Arty and state police polygraph examiner Gary Bachtell that he was offering the correspondence only because they said the girl needed it to heal and not because he abused her.

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