By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
A search of Miller's home produced a marijuana plant, but absolutely nothing that connected him to a conspiracy. For unexplained reasons, the feds didn't search Nelson's apartment or his car for evidence.
Nelson's friend Jeff told the FBI he had been the one who had started the infamous lakeside conversation with Mike Miller and the other fellow. And what about that stop at the McDonald's restaurant on the way from the lake?
Jeff said he had had to go to the bathroom. He knew nothing about the man in the green Mercedes--Marc Kaplan--other than that Nelson had said something nice about the man's car on the way from the lake.
As weeks, then months, wore on, the feds tried diligently to prove the Republic was on-target when it called the Kaplan investigation a shining example of "how the FBI performs on a regular basis." But the investigation that had drawn such raves seemed to be going south faster than Mark Nelson's little red Corvette.
@body:Phoenix attorney Dan Maynard normally handles corporate matters, not criminal cases like the would-be kidnaping and maiming of a child. How Maynard got into the case last fall as Nelson's second attorney is a story in itself.
One of Maynard's major corporate clients had heard Mark Nelson's tale of woe while Nelson was painting his house. The client asked Maynard to take a look at the strange case as a favor. Maynard did so, and was immediately intrigued.
"I spent the weekend with the file," Maynard says, "and I thought that it was one of the craziest stories I had ever seen. I couldn't believe that the government hadn't dropped the case against Nelson. Instead, Hyder strung us out and kept getting tougher and tougher on the kid."
Nelson remembers one of the first comments Dan Maynard made to him.
"He told me, 'You're either Sir Lawrence of Olivier or you've been framed,'" Nelson says.
But Chuck Hyder wouldn't ease up on Nelson, despite the thin case against him. In May, Hyder had asked Judge Robert Broomfield to place Nelson under house arrest. Nelson had been ordered to stay away from the East Valley, but volunteered to authorities that he had spent a few minutes in Scottsdale visiting his girlfriend, who had just miscarried their child.
House arrest meant Nelson had to wear a homing device on his ankle that told authorities where he was at all times. He also was to stay at his parents' home in west Phoenix and to abide by a strict curfew.
"I thought the case against Nelson was pure chickenshit," says attorney Maynard, "and so was the manner in which Mr. Hyder was dealing with him."
®MDRV¯Responds Hyder, "I want you to know from a personal standpoint that I don't play these kinds of games. I'm satisfied with what I've done with the case."®MDNM¯
®MDRV¯But t®MDNM¯his was not the first time Hyder's ethics had been questioned; he had been accused of "prosecutorial misconduct" a few years ago in a highly publicized murder case. A former Maricopa County attorney, Hyder is a career prosecutor respected by many for his successes in putting bad guys behind bars. But last year, his reputation was tarnished--some say ruined--after defense attorneys accused him of concealing key evidence in a 1970s arson-murder case.
Hyder prosecuted John Henry Knapp on charges of intentionally setting the fire that killed his two young daughters. The first trial ended in a hung jury, the second trial in a conviction that landed Knapp on death row for 12 years.
But Knapp then won the right to a third trial. His new lawyers reinvestigated, and a Maricopa County Superior Court judge considered Hyder's alleged wrongdoing at a pretrial hearing.
"The horror of the dark heart of this case," defense attorney Larry Hammond argued, "is that the prosecutor himself, and those who assisted him in the prosecution, chose to hide from view the evidence of Mr. Knapp's innocence."
Hyder denied any wrongdoing, testifying only that he had made some "honest mistakes."
After a hearing that lasted five weeks, Judge Frederick Martone concluded, "There may be some evidence in this case that could support a finding of prosecutorial misconduct. . . ." Martone declined to dismiss the case against Knapp, but suggested the State Bar investigate Hyder. The results of that investigation are pending.
(With a new prosecutor, the third Knapp trial ended last year in a hung jury. Knapp finally plea-bargained in the case--while maintaining his innocence to the end--and was sentenced to time served.)
"I started to think I was dealing with a guy who is a zealot when it comes to his cases," Dan Maynard says. "The only way out of this was to go to trial."
@body:A few days before the latest trial date for the alleged conspirators last month, Chuck Hyder mailed letters to Mark Nelson and Mike Miller's attorneys.
"I hadn't heard from him since the last time we saw him in court," Dan Maynard says of Hyder. "The guy was stringing us out. The letter was simple: He was dismissing the case against my client and Michael Miller."
That week, "mastermind" Frank Alber pleaded guilty. He faces a prison term of undetermined length at his upcoming sentencing.