Arguing that evidence presented at trial last summer did not warrant a conviction, an attorney for former Carroll County schools Superintendent William H. Hyde asked a judge yesterday to grant the career educator a new trial on charges that he raped and sexually abused an elementary school-age girl during the summer of 2002.
"This is it, the defendant's whole life," defense attorney Edward M. Ulsch told Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr., who convicted Hyde in August of all six charges filed against him. "This has to be done right," Ulsch added. "All the way right."
After hearing more than an hour of arguments from Ulsch and prosecutor Tracy A. Gilmore, Burns said he expects to issue a written decision on Hyde's request within the next few days or announce his decision Thursday morning when the former schools chief is scheduled to be sentenced.
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 could add prison time for the lesser charges.
Hyde, 62, who left the Carroll school system after 13 years in August 2000 to take a superintendent's job in Montana, has been living in Idaho, free on $50,000 bail.
He said he has been doing educational consulting work since deciding not to renew his school contract in Seeley Lake, Mont.
Hyde, who did not address the judge during yesterday's hearing, sat quietly, fidgeting with his glasses and passing notes to his attorneys.
Among Hyde's friends and relatives who attended yesterday's hearing, two women wiped away tears at the end of the proceeding, while relatives of the victim clenched their jaws as the lawyers spoke.
Hyde's request for a new trial focused on several points, many of which were raised in August by his attorneys during closing arguments at the end of the eight-day trial and in March during testimony on Hyde's unsuccessful request to suppress evidence in the case.
"There's nothing newly discovered," Gilmore, the county's deputy state's attorney, told the judge. "There is no newly discovered evidence that would give rise to a new trial."
But Ulsch argued that evidence presented during the trial - particularly the testimony of the forensic pediatrician who examined the victim - did not support Hyde's conviction.
He questioned the discrepancy between Dr. Robert P. Wack's findings that the girl had suffered long-term sexual abuse and the child's testimony that Hyde had raped her once and fondled her genital area and buttocks other times during Hyde's 2 1/2 -week visit to Carroll County in the summer of 2002.
Defense attorney Kathi Hill raised that incongruity at trial during cross-examination of Ruth Ann Arty, the lead investigator in the case.
Asked about a remark the child made that suggested she had been exposed to sexual activity four years earlier than the incidents in which Hyde was charged, Arty responded, "I determined that was related to this."
In court yesterday, Ulsch also noted the absence of semen, hair or other physical evidence that might have backed up the girl's story. Gilmore countered that any such evidence might have been eliminated when the girl's mother washed the sleeping bag on which the rape occurred.
Ulsch also zeroed in on remarks the judge made before announcing the guilty verdicts.
Burns told the packed courtroom on Aug. 21 that he had "difficulty" with the second-degree rape charge and that "the quality of the closing arguments certainly shows to me this is a very close case."
Ulsch told the judge yesterday, "We respectfully submit that is the equivalent of reasonable doubt."
The defense offered several exhibits, including invitations to a party planned by the victim's parents and scheduled for after Hyde's sentencing hearing. The event was to include a "ceremonial burning."
A version mailed in November to an Idaho woman whom Ulsch characterized as Hyde's "then-fiancee" and her son was printed on a colorful picture of a phoenix rising from flames drawn by the victim.
Ulsch cited the drawing as another piece of evidence in what he said was a pattern of leading questions and suggestive interview techniques that could have led the girl to incorrectly name Hyde as her abuser.
"That child absolutely believed everything she told you," Ulsch said. But Burns' role, he added, was to weigh whether the victim was testifying "from memories of actual events that happened to her and not something that she was told happened to her."
Although the party has been canceled, the "ceremonial burning" - first suggested by the victim in a December 2002 session with her therapist as a way to rid herself of anything that might remind her of Hyde - will proceed, Gilmore said.
The girl's mother "has talked often about the need to close the book on being a victim and start being a survivor," Gilmore said.
"This is not something they celebrate. It is something that, if they had a choice, they wish had never happened."
The prosecutor reminded the judge that in finding Hyde guilty, he had characterized the girl's testimony as "believable and convincing."
"[The victim] came into this courtroom. She testified. The court found her believable," Gilmore said. "And nothing changes that."