THE PRINTS ON THE CAN

Charles Hyder, the career prosecutor, takes his seat in the witness box. He squares his shoulders and stares directly ahead.

"Yeah," he says in answer to a few of the first questions.
"That's right," he adds, fending off a few others about his legal background.

Hyder wears a brown suit with a vest, and dark tinted aviator glasses with black rims that are fitted with a black cord that hangs over the back of his neck so he will not misplace them.

Is there a message here? Is Hyder a tough guy who is also a little bit of an absent-minded professor? Or is his use of the eyeglass retainers merely the adoption of a style current among junior lawyers who read Gentlemen's Quarterly?

Combative and cautious, Hyder sticks out his chin as he awaits each question. Most lawyers are terrible witnesses, always critical of the question being asked. Hyder is more a competitor than a witness.

Larry Hammond, the tall, slim, deliberate-talking lawyer in the blue suit asking the questions, is seemingly prepared with enough questions to last for days.

Hammond has a fast-track legal background. As a fledgling lawyer, he was a law clerk first for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black and then for Lewis Powell and, finally, a member of the Watergate Special Prosecutor's Team.

John Henry Knapp completes the triangle.
The man Hyder convicted and who once came within 36 hours of execution in the gas chamber sits at the defense table in jailhouse blues. He jots with mental abandon on a legal pad. He jokes and smiles with anyone who takes the time to catch his eye.

He was 27 when the fire that burned his two small daughters to death took place in a run-down little house in Mesa. After almost seventeen years behind bars, Knapp himself is a burned-out case.

The stakes for both Hyder and Knapp could not be higher.
Knapp's lawyers have charged Hyder with prosecutorial misconduct. They assert that his actions in withholding key evidence were so blatant that Knapp should be set free without any further trial.

They have also filed a separate action with the Arizona Bar Association against Hyder for prosecutorial misconduct. His very right to practice law is now at stake.

"I take it that by now you are thoroughly prepared to answer all questions regarding your role as prosecutor in the trials of John Henry Knapp?" Hammond asks.

"I don't know," Hyder says without smiling.
Hammond's eyebrows raise behind his glasses.
"You have read the trial transcripts?" he asks. "You have spoken to the witnesses who have testified in this hearing?"

"I have," Hyder says. He speaks slowly, his voice held deliberately in the low ranges.

"And your lawyer, Mr. Donald Daughton, has been sitting in on these hearings and has given you regular reports about what has happened here?"

Hyder hesitates.
"I don't think I ought to comment about that, one way or another," he says.

Hyder is citing his lawyer-client privilege. He is also showing Hammond that he is still a tough, crafty lawyer who will not be trapped.

"Your brother, Bill Hyder, also an attorney, has also been here in a professional capacity?" Hammond asks.

"Yeah," Hyder says.
There are no smiles and no attempts at light touches from Hyder. He is a tough prosecutor turned for this hearing into a tough witness. This will be slow going. But fascinating. Every question will be answered. But every answer will be measured first.

"And you have reviewed the files of the case more than once?"
"I think maybe five times," Hyder says.
"And how many times have you met with the prosecutor in this case?" Hammond asks.

Hammond is referring to David White, a highly skilled, fiery prosecutor from the Pima County Attorney's Office who has been appointed to handle Hyder's defense in this hearing.

Hyder thinks for an instant.
"Maybe eight, nine or ten times," he says.
Hammond steps back from the rostrum momentarily. As he hesitates, Superior Court Judge Frederick Martone leans forward from the bench. It appears he is about to speak. But for now, Martone says nothing.

It is Martone who will issue a written ruling at the conclusion of this hearing as the disposition of the case. It will be the most important ruling to come out of Superior Court in memory.

Martone was a mathematics major at Holy Cross and went on to Notre Dame law school. He also earned a postgraduate law degree at Harvard.

Only now are there a few coughing sounds from several spectators in the packed room. Everyone has been listening so closely to each one of Hyder's answers that, until this moment, there has not been a sound.

Hammond is ready to move on to the crucial questions. He has succeeded in setting what will be the parameters.

From this point on, it will be impossible for Hyder to avoid questions about his actions in the Knapp case merely by saying he can't recall the details because of the passage of time.

Hyder, the prosecutor who won a death-penalty conviction against Knapp seventeen years ago, clearly has spent months poring over the transcripts and evidence of the two trials that are the main subjects of this hearing.

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