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INNOCENT BYSTANDERS

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"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."
MDRVResponds 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

MDRVBut tMDNMhis 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."
@rule:
@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.

The government dismissed the case against Nelson and Miller in such a way that charges may be refiled at a later date. But everyone familiar with the caseMDRV--except Hyder--MDNMagrees that is highly unlikely.

MDRV"I still think they're involved," Hyder tells New Times, "though I'm not 100 percent confident with the evidence. Something nagged at my gut and still nags at my gut.MDNM

MDRV"To say the case is concluded would be inaccurate."MDNM
Mark Nelson says the first thing he did upon hearing the news was to go to the federal Pretrial Services Office and have his ankle device cut off.

"The people there were really happy for me," he says. "They said they knew I was innocent."
But life hasn't been peachy for Nelson in the month or so since charges against him were dropped. He says he's hurting for money and that many people still won't have anything to do with him.

"It's like they think I got off on a technicality, that I'm guilty," he says. "It sucks.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin