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Former Youth Pastor Who Allegedly Murdered, Dismembered Teenage Boy in 1994 Begins Trial

Ronnie Hyde
Screengrab from WJXT.

On Tuesday, trial began in Jacksonville, FL for Ronnie Hyde, a 65-year-old former youth pastor charged with the 1994 murder of 16-year-old Fred Laster. Laster’s body had been dismembered and was later found in the dumpster behind a gas station.

Disclaimer: some of the details of this story are graphic and disturbing. Discretion advised. 

Though the murder occurred 28 years ago, Hyde was not charged until 2017 after DNA samples revealed Hyde’s possible connection to Laster’s death. According to WJXT, Hyde had also served as a foster parent for Laster. 

Jurors were shown police footage taken from the crime scene, where Laster’s torso had been found.

“The head had been cut off, the hands had been cut off, both legs had been cut off, so it was just the torso of the body,” testified Brian Retz, who was a detective for Columbia County Sheriff’s Office at the time of Laster’s murder. 

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Forensic anthropologist Heather Walsh-Hayney testified that multiple knives were used to dismember Laster’s body, saying, “There were 25 sharp force trauma impacts with a total of 71 cut marks.”

Prosecutors also gave jurors a look at physical evidence taken from the crime scene, including knives, a bloody bed cushion, a red flannel shirt, and orange gloves with Laster’s DNA on them. Prior to the discovery of Laster’s DNA in 2014, the body had previously been unidentified. However, the defense argued that the sample on the glove was tainted, casting doubt on the veracity of that discovery. 

Prosecutors matched Hyde’s DNA to a sample taken from the flannel shirt, and one witness said that they saw a car that looked similar to Hyde’s backed up to the dumpster where Laster’s remains were discovered. 

According to PEOPLE, Laster’s family told investigators that Hyde had picked Laster up the same week his body would be discovered. This was the last time they saw Laster alive. They filed a missing persons report eight months later, having previously presumed that Laster had been traveling with his heavy metal band. He was a high school drop out and passionate about his music. 

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