Calling the young victim's testimony "believable and convincing" in a "very close case," a Circuit Court judge convicted former Carroll County schools Superintendent William H. Hyde yesterday of raping and sexually abusing the elementary school-age girl last summer.
Although he said he struggled with the second-degree rape charge - the most serious of the six charges filed against the former schools chief - Carroll County Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. said:
"I found the testimony of [the child] to be completely believable as she described what happened between she and [Hyde]. ... I find [her] testimony - orally and also the diagram she drew, the stickman diagram - to be totally credible."
Hyde, 62, reddened but otherwise showed no emotion as the judge went through the six-part verdict, finding Hyde guilty of second-degree rape, two counts of sexual child abuse, third- and fourth-degree sex offenses and second-degree assault.
Hyde, who now lives in a rented cabin in a small Idaho town about 50 miles from the Canadian border, will remain free on $50,000 bail - the amount set at the time of his arrest in August 2002 - until he is sentenced Nov. 10.
Sentencing guidelines recommend a prison term of five to 10 years on a second-degree rape conviction for someone with no prior criminal record, although the maximum penalty on that charge is 20 years. The judge can add prison time for the lesser charges.
The girl's family and friends did not even hear the guilty verdicts before their tears started falling.
They sat anxiously on the edge of courtroom benches until Burns, describing his process for evaluating witness testimony, declared the girl to be "believable and convincing."
At that moment, a woman sitting beside the girl's parents began handing out tissues.
One row behind them, the lead investigator in the case, Ruth Ann Arty, whose interview techniques and investigative methods came under attack by defense attorneys and defense expert witnesses, closed her eyes and, with the faintest of smiles, placed a hand on the mother's shoulder.
A 'brutal' ordeal
The child's father, who testified last week that the ordeal has been "brutal" for his daughter and "the worst thing I've ever endured," wept openly and stared at the ceiling as the judge went through the six guilty verdicts.
The girl's parents declined to comment on the case or the verdicts.
Hyde, who quickly and impassively left the courtroom through a back door with his lawyers, could not be reached yesterday afternoon. His two attorneys, Kathi Hill and Edward M. Ulsch, did not return several phone messages left at their Westminster offices.
Hyde, an educator for 39 years, left the Carroll school system in August 2000 to take a job with a small school system in the mountains of western Montana.
He returned to Carroll County last summer for a 2 1/2 -week visit and was charged with raping and sexually abusing the child at her family's home during that time period.
The Sun is not disclosing many details from the case to protect the girl's identity.
To prosecutor Tracy A. Gilmore and the investigators in the county's Child Abuse and Sexual Assault Unit, yesterday's verdicts brought muted victory.
"Obviously, we're satisfied with the outcome," Gilmore, the deputy state's attorney, said in an interview after the 20-minute hearing.
"It's a tragedy that this little girl was hurt, and although it's a victory in terms of what happened in court, she has a lot of healing to do. That's what's difficult about all these cases."
Gilmore declined to comment on the sentence she will seek or the judge's decision to allow Hyde to remain free on bail until the sentencing hearing.
"The judge obviously had made up his mind on that issue," she said. "In open court, I didn't even have the opportunity to request bond be revoked."
Some spectators in the courtroom expressed surprise that Burns did not consider Hyde, living so close to the Canadian border, a flight risk.
But Maryland State Police Sgt. James T. DeWees, who supervises the team of law enforcement officers and civilian investigators who make up the county's Child Abuse and Sexual Assault Unit, said he is not worried that Hyde will flee.
"He has never shown any indication that he would not appear for whatever he was asked to appear for by the court," DeWees said. "So no, I'm not at all concerned that he won't show up for sentencing."
He said he was "pleased and somewhat relieved" by the verdicts, which capped 13 months of investigation and trial preparation that began July 19, 2002, a day after the victim's mother found the girl "almost in tears" in the bathroom and a subsequent medical exam revealed signs of long-term sexual abuse and a recent pelvic bruise.
"It's been a long ordeal," DeWees said. "Besides the fact that the trial took eight days, this kind of thing is real taxing on my staff and the state's attorney's office, the victim's family, Mr. Hyde's family, Mr. Hyde himself, his attorneys - absolutely everyone involved."
The trial began Aug. 11 with the young victim taking the stand and ended - eight business days and 17 witnesses later - with Hyde adamantly maintaining his innocence.
In a quiet, sometimes-quavering voice and using childlike nicknames for body parts, the girl described the night she awoke to find Hyde, partially undressed, hovering over her.
She discussed the stick-figure picture she drew Dec. 31 at Arty's request after revealing for the first time that Hyde had raped her July 11 or 12 last year. Before that, she had indicated to investigators that she had awakened on several occasions in July to find Hyde touching her buttocks and genital area.
"This pitchure [sic] is of [him] in a push-up position," the girl wrote on the drawing, using childlike imagery to convey her understanding of sexual intercourse.
The clinical psychologist who has been treating the girl for 11 months testified that the child was so "terrified" by the abuse that she often curled up on the floor in a corner when talking about it and described how the girl refused to sleep in her own bed, volunteering instead to sleep in a sleeping bag under the bed or beside it.
And Arty, the investigator, testified that the girl shared bits and pieces of the abuse story over six months, all the while saying "there's more to tell."
Defense attorneys, however, argued that the investigation was fraught with mistakes.
They brought in expert witnesses - a clinical psychologist and a nationally recognized expert in police interrogations and false confessions - who criticized leading interviews that they said could have pressured and misled the girl into mistakenly naming Hyde as her abuser and a coercive interrogation of Hyde during which authorities bullied him into apologizing for something that he insisted he did not do.
'A very close case'
In his remarks before announcing the verdicts, Burns said that "the quality of the closing arguments certainly shows to me this is a very close case."
The judge also addressed the expert testimony.
"The thrust of the testimony of the defense experts was to tear down the methods of investigation used in this case," he said, adding that one of their chief critiques - investigators' failure to record their interviews with the girl or with Hyde - involves a countywide practice.
"The bottom line in this case, in my opinion, comes down to the testimony of the victim and the testimony of the defendant," the judge said.
"My job is to evaluate the testimony of all the witnesses in this case, and after much consideration, the court finds the testimony of [the child] believable and convincing."