Hyde Out

From death row to mom's enchiladas-- a free man.

That begs the question of who killed the Lees, who were loved by their family, their community, and, in the case of Ginger Lee -- a veteran Phoenix elementary school teacher who worked at the Joyland Market after hours -- by students and colleagues.

During Jackie Johnson's trial in October 1991, prosecutor Levy claimed Johnson was the actual killer, as Hyde looked on inside the store.

Johnson's attorney, Varbel, argued that the eyewitness identification testimony was badly flawed, and that his client had been elsewhere when the murders were committed.

David Hyde is trying to adjust to a world that changed dramatically while he was in prison.
Emily Piraino
David Hyde is trying to adjust to a world that changed dramatically while he was in prison.

Without any evidence to back him, Varbel claimed the murders were a professional hit orchestrated by a big firm that wanted the land on which the market sat.

The jury didn't hear about Johnson's aggressive tendencies -- a probation officer in an unrelated case would call him "an extremely violent individual who [has] assaulted many people."

Nor did the first panel hear much about the blood found on both Johnson and Hyde's two jackets.

The panel then acquitted Johnson on the murders, though he later served about seven years in prison for an early 1991 carjacking during which he pummeled the car's owner with his fists.

Hyde's trial was another story. His family hired Duane Varbel to represent him just one day before the trial began, which relegated attorney Jose de la Vera to a minor role.

Varbel never interviewed Hyde before the trial, nor did he amass details surrounding Hyde's self-incriminating statements to police and to the aptly named jailhouse snitch, Billy Lipps. Instead, the attorney again claimed that bad police work had failed to discover that the Lees had been victims of a professional hit by a big corporation.

Just as crucial, Varbel didn't prepare to counter new blood-spatter evidence and expert prosecution testimony that hadn't come up at Jackie Johnson's trial.

Also at Hyde's trial, prosecutor Levy now contended that Hyde, not Johnson, had committed the murders.

But Judge O'Toole noted in ordering Hyde's new trial that "the keys to the state's case were the bloody jackets and bowie knife, and Hyde's incriminating statements." However, the judge said, "Hyde's statements to police were the product of six hours of suggestive interrogation, misrepresentation about the nature and strength of the evidence gathered at the crime scene, and other intentional misstatements designed to obtain an admission."

As for Lipps' testimony, O'Toole wrote, "there were inconsistencies between his version of Hyde's activities at the crime scene and what the evidence showed."

Testimony in O'Toole's court suggested that attorney de la Vera had intended to argue that Hyde's brother Jackie Johnson had been the killer. But Varbel -- who had walked Johnson months earlier -- insisted they blame the mysterious national company as having orchestrated the murders.

David Hyde may well know if his brother Jackie indeed stole the lives of two innocent people, which seems quite plausible. But he's not about to give it up.

"He's my brother," he says. "I love my brother. I've seen him a couple times since I got out. He's got his problems."

Hyde says he has a line on a job with a local company that hires felons. Recently, with the blessing of his ex-wife, he's been establishing a relationship with his 17-year-old son.

Mostly, though, Hyde says he's trying to adjust to a world that changed dramatically while he was away. "Cell phones, malls, aisles and aisles of things, everything is so advanced now," he says. "Tasting different food is like being in heaven. When I got out, I went to my mom's right away to eat her enchiladas. That's what I dreamed of all the time."

E-mail paul.rubin@newtimes.com, or call 602-229-8433.

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